Thanet council says it is working closely with the CAB to help those in debt
Thanet council used bailiffs to recover unpaid council tax and business rates more than 5,000 times last year - the highest of any authority in Kent.
Figures obtained under the Freedom of Information Act show that the council resorted to bailiffs on 5,393 occasions to chase unpaid council tax in 2012-13.
It also took 6,241 people to court for failing to pay their council tax - also the highest number of any council.
Together, district and borough councils across the county used bailiffs more than 34,000 times in 2012-2013.
There are concerns the introduction of new council tax schemes, meaning many people on benefits will pay an element of council tax for the first time, the numbers falling into arrears may grow.
Thanet says the new rules will affect 7,564 more households.
The council said bailiffs - who have the power to remove belongings to sell settle outstanding debts - were only used as a last resort.
It said it worked closely with the Citizens Advice Bureau and other charities to help those in debt.
In a statement, it said: “All the accounts that have been through all the recovery processes and have failed to pay are referred to the bailiff company for a period of 14 days. They will then try to make an arrangement prior to this action being taken.”
The statement added: “We work closely with the CAB to advise on debt relief, and work with the Step Change debt charity to assist customers who are in debt. We ensure all customers that have an entitlement to any council tax reduction are advised and assistance is given to help claim this. The council tax team have the discretion to allow a payment over a 12 month period to assist and reduce 10 monthly payments.”
But welfare groups have said councils are too quick to use bailiffs.
Citizens Advice Chief Executive Gillian Guy said: “I’m concerned that in some cases councils are too quick to pass debts to bailiffs. Half of people we help with bailiffs problems are families with children. A bailiff turning up at the doorstep of your home is frightening.”
She added: “Local authorities have a duty to protect and support the people who live in their communities. They need to recognise the current squeeze on household finances. If a family is struggling to pay their council tax bill it is quite likely they are battling other bills too. It should be an alarm bell.”