AROUND one in every five households in Lewisham were visited by bailiffs in the past year, according to figures released today.

Lewisham Council referred bailiffs to collect debts from 23,340 (19.3 per cent) of homes in the borough.

The statistics were obtained by The Money Advice Trust, which sent Freedom of Information requests to all 374 local authorities in England and Wales.

The debt charity found councils across England and Wales referred debts to bailiffs on an "excessive" 1.8m occasions and is calling on local authorities to be more responsible in managing their debt collection.

Meanwhile Gravesham Council sent bailiffs round to 5,632 households, the equivalent of more than one in 10 (13.4 per cent).

A total of 14,908 homes – 14.2 per cent – in the Greenwich borough were visited by the council’s debt collectors.

In Bexley 6,255 homes (6.5 per cent) were visited compared to just 2,397 (5.8 per cent) homes in Dartford.

A Greenwich Council spokesman said: "These figures are incorrect and have been wrongly interpreted.

The figure of 14,908 refers to the number of liability orders obtained for council tax.

Of these orders, 8142 cases were passed to bailiffs.

"The Royal Borough of Greenwich uses bailiffs as a last resort and we have a number of ways in which we offer support and advice to residents who are finding it difficult to pay their bills.

"Failure to collect the debt owed in the cases (in excess of £6 million) would equate to an extra £75 per year in council tax for the average household in the borough."

A Gravesham Council spokesman said: “The council only employs bailiffs as a last resort.

“Every opportunity is given to those in arrears or have other outstanding debts to make arrangements to pay and come to agreement.

“Only when the council is satisfied that the debtor has the means to pay but will not pay are bailiffs called in.

“A clear indication of this is the fact that bailiffs collected £850,000 in unpaid council tax alone in the last financial year and there was only one complaint from a debtor.

“Bailiffs also collected £50,000 in unpaid parking fines in that year.

“Other options, such as attachment of income or benefits, are also explored and used as alternatives to the use of bailiffs.

“Council tax is an important tax and there is a benefits system in place to protect those in vulnerable situations but we have a duty to those hard-working people who struggle to pay their council tax to ensure that everyone who can pay, does pay.

“We also have a duty to collect council taxes on behalf of the county council, the police and fire services and only a small part of that money comes to the council for local services.”

Have you had issues with bailiffs? Contact the newsroom by e-mail or call 01689 885734.