MORE than 10,000 debts were referred to bailiffs across Dorset last year.

The former Bournemouth council sent bailiffs to collect 6,872 debts in the year to April, a three per cent rise on the previous year.

The old Poole council referred 2,165 debts over the same period, a drop of 36 per cent.

And the former Dorset County Council sent 1,752 debts to bailiffs, all for unpaid parking fines.

The figures were revealed after Freedom of Information requests were submitted to local authorities by the Money Advice Trust.

Bailiffs, also known as enforcement agents, visit properties to remove and sell goods for the repayment of certain debts.

Such debts could be council tax arrears, parking notices or other sums owed to the council.

The Money Advice Trust’s Stop the Knock 2019 report revealed a seven per cent increase in bailiff use across England and Wales over the last two years, with 2.6 million cases in 2018-19 – driven by a 21 per cent rise in the number of parking debts referred.

Joanna Elson, chief executive of the charity, said she is concerned by the figures and would like to see a reduction in bailiff use.

“Bailiff action is harmful to people in debt, and these findings should concern us all.

“Reforming the law around bailiff action itself is vital if we are to protect people from harm. Of equal importance, however, is reducing the number of debts that are being passed to bailiffs in the first place.

“Bailiff action should only ever be used as a last resort, and can be avoided by early intervention, providing free debt advice, and agreeing affordable repayment arrangements.

“We will continue to work constructively with councils to help them reduce their bailiff use, and to impress upon central government the urgent need for the national policy changes that are required to quicken the pace of change.”

Further debt collection practices mentioned in the report include exempting recipients of Council Tax Support from bailiff action, and signing the Citizens’ Advice Council Tax Protocol, which aims to prevent people from getting into debt.

The Local Government Association argued that councils “have a duty to their residents” to collect unpaid debts, but said it was working with Citizens Advice to develop fairer recovery and enforcement policies, including exemptions for vulnerable families.

Richard Watts, chairman of the LGA’s resources board, said: “We realise that times are tough.

“Councils do their best to protect those affected the most, whether through introducing hardship funds, or taking a sympathetic and constructive approach to the way we collect unpaid tax.

“Anyone having trouble paying their council bills should get in touch with their local authority for financial help and advice.”