Shropshire Council like many councils employs bailiffs to collect council tax arrears. Bristow and Sutor are its bailiffs of choice. In recent days, the bailiffs sent out a letter to 2,622 households who are behind with council tax payments. In a staggering display of incompetence, Bristow and Sutor sent the wrong letter and threatened to take possession of people’s goods to pay the bill. The letter should have asked for financial details and invited discussions on paying.

Council leader Peter Nutting was clearly outraged. He demanded a compensatory payment to charity from Bristow and Sutor to a charity. £250. Yes, just £250. Less than ten pence for each letter. £250 is just half of one per cent of the company’s pre-tax profit in 2018/19.

The council does not say how much council tax is owing. If around 2,600 average households had paid no council tax at all this year, then they might owe around £5 million. It will be less, possibly much less, but debt is a serious business for councils like Shropshire which has seen year on year budget cuts.

This has been a lousy year for many people who have found their savings drained and credit bills pushed up as they have coped with the challenges of a nation gripped by Covid-19. There will of course be those hoping to get away with not paying. My sympathy is not with them but with those struggling to survive.

I am concerned that so many households have been threatened. There is a strict protocol for bailiffs. It failed and the company, which is suspended from work with Shropshire Council, should be sacked.

As a council, we must not push people who are living at the edge over the financial precipice into losing their possessions and their homes. We must not contribute to the rapidly growing pressures on mental health.

Yet, in the most bizarre press release of the year, Peter Nutting says:

“By way of an apology, I have asked that the company make a donation to my chosen charity, Shrewsbury Town in the Community, and I’m pleased to say that they have donated £250 that will benefit people across Shropshire.”

Two hundred and fifty pounds? The money is going to a good cause, Shrewsbury Town in the Community. But it amounts to less than ten pence a letter. It is only the price of business lunch. The pre-tax profit of Bristow and Sutor was close to £5.2 million in 2018/19.

Will the corrected letters arrive before Christmas? We do not know. They should be sent by courier.

Nutting should apologise for not getting a decent deal out Bristow and Sutor. He is typical of the current council leadership. Members of the cabinet do not know how frightening it is to get a bailiff’s letter. It does not understand the panic such letter generates. It does not understand that security of a home and having some comfort is vital to mental health.

It has however valued its own attitude to scaring the hell out of people. Less than ten pence a household. We have a council leadership that has totally lost any sense of reality and has no understanding of poverty.

Citizen’s Advice provides advice on dealing with bailiffs.

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