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Councils call bailiffs in 2m times

Bailiffs are called in to collect unpaid council taxes and parking fines in more than two million cases a year, campaigners have said.

Almost 5,500 cases a day are passed to debt recovery agencies by local councils in England, Scotland and Wales, a report shows.

The figures, released to the civil liberties campaign group Big Brother Watch under the Freedom of Information Act, come after concerns that bailiffs harass or intimidate those who owe money, charge excessive fees and threaten debtors with imprisonment.

Two Scottish councils topped the list of those that used bailiffs most frequently, with both the City of Edinburgh and Glasgow City Council calling in debt recovery agents more than 280,000 times between 2007/08 and 2009/10 - more than 250 cases every day.

Daniel Hamilton, director of Big Brother Watch, said: "The coalition Government must act now to end the culture of bully-boy debt collection which has taken hold in town halls across the country.

"Sending in bailiffs to recover debts should always be the absolute last resort. The fact local councils have passed more than six million cases to bailiffs for matters as trivial as the late payment of council taxes and parking fines is truly shocking."

Overall, the 320 local authorities who responded to the survey passed 4,527,917 cases to third-party debt recovery agencies for the non-payment of council tax, and 1,411,086 cases for the non-payment of fines for parking infringements, between 2007/08 and 2009/10.

David Sparks, vice-chairman of the Local Government Association, said about £530 million of council tax went unpaid each year.

"Councils have a duty to the vast majority of residents who pay their taxes to pursue the small number of individuals who don't," he said. "There is nothing trivial about collecting money which funds the vital frontline services residents need and want."

He went on: "Calling in the bailiffs is very much a last resort. People struggling to pay bills are given as much leeway as possible and, as a matter of course, councils contact people a number of times before starting legal proceedings."