BROMSGROVE District Council's use of bailiffs to collect debts has more than doubled over the last two years, a new report reveals.

Freedom of Information requests by the Money Advice Trust, which operates the National Debtline, show that Bromsgrove District Council sent 1,922 debts to bailiffs in 2018-19.

That's more than twice as many as in 2016-17, when 870 referrals were made.

Bailiffs, also known as enforcement agents, visit properties to remove and sell goods for the repayment of certain debts, including council tax arrears, parking notices and others owed to the council.

The council has defended its increased use of bailiffs, insisting it has a "duty" to its residents who do pay their bills on time.

A council spokesperson said: "There has been a general increase in the number of cases that we are referring to enforcement agents.

"However, this increase is the result of changes that we have made to our recovery procedures which mean that we are working more efficiently in recovering money that people owe.

"We have a duty to all of the residents of Bromsgrove to take action to recover Council Tax.

"There is a general expectation from the majority of residents who are paying their bills on time that we will recover debts fairly and appropriately.

"The use of enforcement agents is an important tool for the recovery of debts."

The Money Advice Trust's research also looked at how local authorities manage debt collection, and found that 99% of councils, including Bromsgrove District Council, point residents in financial difficulty in the direction of free debt advice.

The charity also advises local authorities to have official strategies to support people from at-risk or low-income groups who are in debt, but Bromsgrove District Council does not have such a policy in place.

Further debt collection practices mentioned in the report include exempting recipients of Council Tax Support from bailiff action, and signing the Citizens' Advice Council Tax Protocol, which aims to prevent people from getting into debt.

In Bromsgrove, council tax support recipients are not exempted from bailiff action, but the council is considering signing up to the protocol.

A council spokesperson added: "We take appropriate steps to ensure that people who are in receipt of Council Tax Support will not routinely see their debts referred to enforcement agents.

"We do not adopt a blanket policy exempting Council Tax Support claimants from referral to enforcement agents as there are cases where it is the appropriate course of action to take.

"We provide Council Tax payers with a number of notices via text message, email and letter prior to the instruction of enforcement agents and we use these interventions as an opportunity to work with people to ensure that they are able to pay their debt.

"We are also working with the Citizens Advice Bureau toward the adoption of their protocol.

"Where it is necessary to take further action cases are referred to the council’s appointed enforcement agents who are trained to identify and support vulnerable debtors."

The Money Advice Trust says bailiffs should only be called in as a last resort, and is urging the Government to implement a national strategy to reduce their use across England and Wales.