Published: 00:00, 22 August 2013
| Updated: 13:34, 22 August 2013
Councils in Kent have used bailiffs thousands of times in a year to recover unpaid council tax and business rates, figures obtained by the KM Group reveal.
Together, district and borough councils used bailiffs more than 34,000 times in 2012-2013.
Bailiffs were used predominantly to chase council tax arrears with councils using them against 31,620 households.
They were also used against 2,700 businesses who had failed to pay their rates.
Meanwhile, thousands of others faced court action, with summons issued to 64,099 householders. Of these, 41,159 resulted in hearings and liability orders being granted by magistrates.
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.
Figures obtained under the Freedom of Information Act by the KM Group show Thanet council used bailiffs 5,393 times to chase unpaid council tax - more than any other council.
It also took 6,241 people to court for failing to pay their council tax - also the highest number of any council.
Gravesham council was the second highest for the use of bailiffs, using them 4,011 times for non-payment of council tax and 813 times for unpaid business rates.
Both authorities said they only used bailiffs - who have the power to remove belongings to sell settle outstanding debts - as a last resort.
In a statement, Gravesham council said: “Every opportunity is given to those in arrears or have other outstanding debts to make arrangements to pay.
"Only when the council is satisfied the debtor has the means to pay but will not pay are bailiffs called in.
"A clear indication of this is that bailiffs collected £850,000 in unpaid council tax alone in the last financial year and there was only one complaint from a debtor.”
Thanet council said it worked closely with the Citizens Advice Bureau and other charities to help those in debt.
"Only when the council is satisfied the debtor has the means to pay but will not pay are bailiffs called in" - Gravesham council
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.”
Ashford recorded the lowest use of bailiffs to recover council tax arrears - 1,194 - while Shepway council used bailiffs 1,346 times.
Even in more prosperous parts of the county, hundreds of residents faced bailiffs knocking at the door. Sevenoaks council used them 1,937 times to collect unpaid council tax while in Tunbridge Wells, they were used 2,251 times.
But Citizens Advice said some councils were passing debts to bailiffs too quickly.
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.”