Bailiffs chase up £6m for Sheffield council

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BAILIFFS were called in to chase up more than 10,000 debtors in Sheffield over the last year - as the council tries to recover £6 million of unpaid income.

A tough line is being taken against people who do not pay council tax, business rates, and parking and bus lane fines.

Sheffield Council is facing a squeeze on its income due to Government spending cuts.

In the year to April, officials referred 10,225 cases to bailiffs, involving debt totalling £6,035,832. The council has not revealed how much of the money was actually recovered.

The cases include 3,851 parking and bus lane fines during 2011/12.

The figure is down on the previous year, when 4,897 parking and bus lane fines were referred to bailiffs.

Sheffield residents’ groups today backed the council in its tough stance.

Terry Andrews, treasurer of Base Green Tenants’ and Residents’ Association, said: “I’m flabbergasted by the number of people not paying up.

“I think the council is right to send bailiffs to people’s houses and businesses.

“If people who owe money do not pay, services end up having to be cut instead.”

Avril Critchley, a retired teacher and former chair of Totley Residents’ Association, agreed. “The council has to take action against offenders because it is otherwise not fair on those who pay up,” she said.

“The number of people not paying surprises me.”

Mac Millard, 76, of Longley, a former member of Sheffield Motorists’ Forum, said: “People who feel parking and bus lane fines are unfair should appeal in the legitimate way. I am of a generation where if you do something wrong you should pay up - or the council has less money and other people lose out.”

Eugene Walker, Sheffield Council’s director of finance, said: “Collection of income is a matter we take very seriously as we need that revenue to pay for vital services for people in Sheffield.

“We give people many opportunities to pay, but if they choose to refuse we are prepared to use bailiffs if necessary.”

The authority said its council tax and benefits contractor, Capita, uses two firms - Rossendales and Equita - as bailiffs to recover ‘hard to collect’ council tax.

Mr Walker said: “Both companies have to comply with the council’s recovery policy as well as the Bailiff’s Code of Conduct. We take any complaints of aggressive tactics, or failing to comply with the policy in other ways, extremely seriously.”

For council tax and business rates debts, Sheffield Council said it follows a standard legal process - bill, reminder, possible second reminder, final notice, summons, liability order issued by magistrates and a 14-day notice - before resorting to a bailiff.

Sheffield Council said it also follows nationally-agreed procedures to recover outstanding parking and bus lane fines.

Offenders have 28 days to pay, unless an appeal is made in which case the fine is put on hold.

After 28 days are up, the council ups the fine by 50 per cent then gives offenders 14 days to pay, or takes cases to county court.

Only continued failure to pay results in cases being referred to bailiffs.