Lambeth Council has started using enforcement agents to recover council tax debts from those in receipt of council tax support, but the agents do not visit in person.

This comes after opposition leader Cllr Jonathan Bartley put in a member’s question about the number of cases where council tax debt was referred to bailiffs.

Lambeth Council’s response shows the use of enforcement agents, another term for bailiffs, for those in receipt of council tax support has increased from zero over 2015-2016 and 2016-2017 to 1,504 in 2017-2018.

Council tax support is a benefit to help people who are on a low income or claiming certain benefits to pay some of their council tax bill.

Lambeth Council contracts out “some work” to external companies relating to council tax debt, which contact people by phone or letter, cabinet member for finance Cllr Andy Wilson said.

The enforcement agents have been used when it has not been possible to contact residents in council tax arrears.

“Lambeth council does not use bailiffs against people in receipt of council tax support. This has been a long-standing policy since 2015 and it is still in place – we use enforcement agents as a last resort to support people in debt to repay, and they do not knock on people’s doors,” he said.  

“Instead, we have worked with people to encourage them to pay and to provide debt advice, support and discretionary payments for those who can’t pay. Some of that work is carried out by an external company who contact people by phone or letter if the council has been unable to get in touch with them.”

Cases issued to enforcement agents for those in council tax arrears increased by from 9,910 in 2016-2017 to 11,891 in the last financial year.

There were as high as 12,828 in 2013-2014.

Cllr Bartley said stopping the use of bailiffs for council tax arrears was something Green Party councillors campaigned for.

A 2014 report from Child Poverty Action Group revealed the council issued 8933 summonses in 2013/2014 – the highest number of court summonses for council tax arrears than any other London council.

Lambeth Council also referred the most cases to bailiffs than any other London council over the same period.