Lewisham Council used bailiffs to recover council tax debt on nearly two thousand more families in the last financial year.

Bailiffs try to take your possessions away and sell them, usually at auction, to raise money to pay the debt in a process which is called ‘taking control of goods’.

Debt services and mental health charities have warned of the dangers of pushing poor families further into debt through the use of bailiffs, with a committee of MPs criticising councils’ “overzealous” pursuit of council tax, in a report released last month.

According to a Freedom of Information request, 22,147 people had overdue council tax collected by a bailiff in Lewisham in 2017/18.

The previous year saw 20,384 instances of council tax debt collected by a bailiff.

Mental health charity Mind has warned against the impacts of using bailiffs, and has called on the Government to protect the public from aggressive bailiffs.

The charity warned 50 per cent of people they surveyed had reported suicidal feelings after a knock on the door from bailiffs, with 80 per cent of people experiencing threatening behaviour from bailiffs.

Money Advice Trust, a debt advice charity, also reported a 40 per cent increase in the number of calls for advice about council tax arrears in the last five years.

Jane Tully, spokesperson for National Debtline, run by the Money Advice Trust, said is was important local councils support residents who fall behind on payments.

“The fact that Lewisham Council’s use of bailiff action has increased so significantly in recent years is certainly a concern," she explained.

"Receiving a court summons or a bailiff’s knock on the door can be an extremely distressing experience – especially for people who are already in financial difficulty. The effect on families with children in the house is particularly worrying."

Bailiff action should only be used as a last resort, she said.

"The key is to intervene with support at an early stage, work with residents to set up an affordable repayment plan – and make sure they receive free, independent debt advice as soon as possible,” she said.

This comes as the number of court summons for council tax debt increases by half in the borough, with 41,569 people sent summons in 2017/2018, according to the FOI request.

That is 15 per cent of Lewisham’s population, or more than one in 10.

More people are also seeing the debt deducted directly from their benefits, with 807 attachment of benefits recorded for 2017/18 compared to 255 for the previous year.

More people had the debt taken directly from their wages last year than in previous years.

In 2017/18, 318 people had the debt taken from their earnings, compared to 239 people in 2016/17.

But the number of charging orders, a court order on your property which means when the property is sold you will have to pay the debt off first, has decreased from previous years.

Eleven people had charging orders places against them in 2016/17, compared to 56 in the previous year.