BAILIFFS were instructed to chase unpaid council tax debts at thousands of homes in Bournemouth and Poole last year leaving children “frightened and worried”.

Figures released by the Children’s Society show 1,816 homes in Bournemouth and 1,332 in Poole were referred to bailiffs for unpaid council tax payments in 2014.

A report published by the charity claims most families who received a knock at the door had children home at the time and the majority of parents said the experience left them “frightened, sad or worried”.

Matthew Reed, chief executive of the Children’s Society, said: “Bailiffs should simply not be sent round to families with children.

“Instead, councils should give struggling residents a chance to negotiate affordable repayments, and make sure every family in trouble is offered independent debt advice."

There are an estimated 3,797 children living in families who have experienced council tax debt in Bournemouth and a further 3,419 in Poole, 999 in Christchurch and 1,825 in East Dorset.

The charity says local authorities are rushing to "penalise struggling families" by demanding "sudden" and "unrealistic" council tax payments.

And it warns struggling families are being pushed into the hands of payday loan and credit card companies.

Mr Reed added: “Our report reveals that far too many families are failed by their council when they fall behind with their council tax. Councils are more likely to refer a family in council tax debt to a bailiff than to an independent debt advisor, which is not acceptable."

Ian Milner, acting executive director of finance at Bournemouth Borough Council, said: “We encourage anyone having difficulties with their council tax payments to contact us to discuss the options available to them, including payment plans. We provide numerous opportunities for people to get in touch with us to seek help and advice.”

The Stour Valley and Poole Partnership, which administers council tax for Christchurch, East Dorset, North Dorset and Poole councils, set up its own in-house “enforcement service” last year.

The manager, Paul Hudson, said this ensures the partnership can take account of personal circumstances when assisting taxpayers.

He added: “Our enforcement team work closely with the Citizens’ Advice Bureau and other advice agencies to support those considered vulnerable who need to pay. Unfortunately we are sometimes required to take action to collect the tax due in the interest of other taxpayers.”