Citizens Advice is helping someone with bailiff-related problems every three minutes as many in Britain finds itself descending into poverty with no lifeline in sight.
UK households have fallen behind on essential bills such as council tax and electricity by as much as £18.9 billion, according to the independent charity, with total debts of almost £7.5 billion in tax credit overpayments, £2.84 billion in council tax and £2.2 billion in water bills.
The damning report shows that household debt has now overtaken consumer credit as the main money problem people contact Citizens Advice about in what is being labelled a “hidden debt mountain” that could have severe consequences.
The findings coincide with calls from Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) to increase the government’s so-called national living wage to give families the chance to provide a level of living for children that is acceptable to the public.
With parents on minimum wage struggling to provide their children with the most basic lifestyle, the charity says rising prices of essentials, benefits and tax credit freezes, the bedroom tax and the roll-out of Universal Credit have ‘hit family budgets hard’.
Chief executive Alison Garnham said: “There is strong public support for Government topping up the wages of low-paid parents and investing in children is the best long-term investment we can make.
“By using the forthcoming Budget to unfreeze benefits and restore work allowances, the Government can take steps towards making work really pay.”
But there is little hope of that happening. With the government distracted by the Brexit process all signs indicate that borrowing will continue to rise faster than workers’ pay, with high inflation pushing up the cost of living and government benefit cuts adding to the squeeze on households.
As Gillian Guy, chief executive of Citizens Advice, said: “Families are living in fear of a visit from the bailiffs, and small missed bills can skyrocket through excessive enforcement fees.
“Our evidence shows aggressive tactics by bailiffs cause huge distress and can even push people further into debt.
“Families are going without essentials like food or electricity to meet their payments.”
Although the Ministry of Justice is set to investigate aggressive collection practices by bailiffs, surely we’d be better off without them having to turn up at all? It’s time for the government to wake up to the fact that Britain is living on the poverty line. The country needs a hand up, not a knock on the door for payments it simply doesn’t have.