A Tory MP has labelled Harrow Council an ‘exploitative regime’ in the way it collects debts.
Conservative MP for Harrow East, Bob Blackman, made the claims following new guidelines published last week by the Department for Communities and Local Government, which indicate it is inappropriate for councils to receive extra payment or profit-sharing from the use of bailiffs and the charging of fees.
The council confirmed that bailiffs collect a total of £1million in fees on behalf of the authority over the course of a year, of which they receive a small share, with last year’s amount £47,000.
Mr Blackman said: “The reality is that Harrow Council is operating an increasingly exploitative regime in terms of its debt collection.”
The Tory MP argues that in receiving a percentage of the bailiff fees charge, the council has an incentive to see them reach a level that is as high as possible.
“This is clearly wrong and not what residents expect from a council that is supposed to serve them and represent their interests,” he added.
The Independent Labour leader of Harrow Council and portfolio holder for finance, councillor Thaya Idaikkadar, said: “Some of the debts collected are many years old and without using bailiffs this money would never be collected. The government also charges hefty penalties when the taxpayers are late with tax payments and uses bailiffs to collect the unpaid tax.
“The money that the council receives is used to pay for scrutinising the activities of bailiffs and looking at fees that have been charged, as well as occasional payments to the voluntary sector such as the Citizens Advice Bureau, which offers vital debt advice to residents.”
The council leader and its contracted bailiffs recently agreed a number of measures designed to help those hit by recent benefit changes introduced by the government. These include sending out text messages and early reminder letters to people who have fallen into debt as a result of these changes.