Efficiency through fairness: we’ve improved council tax collections, without using bailiffs

We’ve improved council tax collections, without using bailiffs.

At the end of the first year since H&F Council stopped using bailiffs to enforce council tax debts, we've seen an increase in our collection rate.

Over the last year we collected 96.76 per cent of all the council tax we were owed – an increase on the previous year's figures.

But the remarkable achievement is that we did this while becoming the first council in the country to cease the use of bailiffs to enforce council tax debts.

“We keep council tax low by running an efficient council,” said Cllr Max Schmid, H&F Cabinet Member for Finance. “But efficiency does not have to come at the expense of destroying the lives of families by using bailiffs.

“We decided to be the first council in the country to stop using bailiffs because we knew we could collect council tax in a fairer and more effective way.”

H&F’s approach of enforcing debts without the use of bailiffs is called 'ethical debt collection'. By working constructively with families who are struggling to pay before they amass big debts, we are able to avoid the negative impacts of using bailiffs without jeopardising the council’s income.

Through a combination of early intervention with residents, different methods of contact, working closely with the advice sector, ensuring correct council tax support is claimed and using all other enforcement options available, we have managed to not only maintain our in-year collection rate, but actually achieve an increase. Our partnership with Intrum, which runs our ethical debt service, has helped improve our overall collection rates.

“Heavy-handed debt collection in the public sector is counter-productive: bailiffs create high levels of stress and anxiety in families and can lead to homelessness and other problems, which not only devastates families but also ends up costing the public sector more than we were trying to collect in the first place,” said Cllr Schmid.

“We are determined to offer an ethical approach that both helps residents at risk of falling into debt and saves money for taxpayers at a time of massive funding cuts from central government.”

There are a number of things we've done differently in striving to be financially efficient.

These include:

  • securing £643million from developers
  • cutting senior manager posts
  • renegotiating wasteful contracts
  • reorganising our IT service to save over £5million.

“We want to offer people the best services, at the lowest possible cost, and we want to be scrupulously fair in how we collect the funds to do that,” said Cllr Schmid.

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