The Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) is to publish new guidance to improve how councils recover unpaid council tax and end their use of "aggressive enforcement tactics”.
The Ministry said the guidance would mean vulnerable people who fall behind with their payments would have greater protection. It will work with charities, debt advice organisations and councils on the publication.
MHCLG said it would be considering further reforms later this year – these might include:
- ensuring affordability assessments are central to council tax collection processes so individual circumstances are taken into account and people are given appropriate time to pay off arrears;
- improving the links between councils and the debt advice sector;
- developing and supporting fairer debt intervention methods.
Local Government Minister Rishi Sunak said: “Council tax collection is essential to running public services, like caring for those most at risk, collecting bins and keeping our transport networks running.
“The experiences of some innovative councils show that council tax collection rates can be improved without resorting to the unfair treatment of vulnerable people.
“That’s why I’m pushing forward work to make the council tax collection system fairer and more efficient – so people are treated with compassion while services get the funds they need.”
The MHCLG said its action formed part of cross-government efforts to improve the treatment of vulnerable debtors. This includes plans for HM Treasury to implement a ‘breathing space’ and statutory payment plan for people in debt and a Ministry of Justice review of bailiff regulations.
The Ministry cited the approach adopted by St Albans City and District Council, which is forging stronger connections with the debt advice sector to create a more consistent approach to determining residents’ ability to pay.
Staff at the local authority proactively refer vulnerable residents to debt advice services. They also hold off from applying to the courts for liability orders unless payments run beyond 12 months or multiple payment arrangements are broken. The council also requires enforcement agents who collect debts to sign up to the council’s new affordability approach.