Wellingborough Council is urging people to get in touch early if they are struggling to pay their council tax or business rates, as new national legislation will see bailiff charges change from Sunday.
The change in law means that people will be hit with increased fees if bailiffs are needed to recover overdue debts.
The new legislation introduces a single charging structure for all enforcement companies. Under the new national system, a standard non-refundable £75 fee will be charged as soon as the debt is handed over to bailiffs, who will now be known as enforcement agents.
If enforcement action is needed, such as an agent visiting a person's home, a fee of £235 is added, plus a further 7.5% of any debt over £1,500. Where goods are removed, a fee of £110 will be added, and another 7.5% of any debt over £1,500.
These fees, which are set by the government, are collected by the enforcement company and are not paid to the council.
Alongside the new legislation, the government is also introducing changes to the Tribunals, Courts and Enforcement Act, to give more protection to the public from rogue enforcement agents. The tough new laws include measures to prevent the agents from entering homes at night or when only vulnerable people or under 16s are present. Agents are also prevented from taking basic household items such as cookers, fridges and washing machines. These changes also come into effect on Sunday 6 April.
Leader of Wellingborough Council, Cllr Paul Bell, said: "If people are struggling with council tax or business rates bills, we need them to talk to us. Ignoring the problem only makes it spiral, as extra charges have to be applied. We can try and work with people before it gets to that stage, but only if they contact us and let us know they're having difficulties.
"These new laws should reassure people that the enforcement companies are working to a strict standard, and the whole process should be simpler and more transparent. The new system also gives ample time for contact with the enforcement company, hopefully reducing the need for visits to homes or places of work.
"If anyone is struggling with debt, I would urge them not to ignore reminders or letters in order to keep costs to a minimum."
Wellingborough Council has a detailed recovery policy for non-payment of council tax. After the first instalment is missed, a reminder is issued. A second reminder is sent if further instalments are missed, followed by telephone contact. A final notice is then issued if payment is not made, followed by the issuing of a summons to court, at which an application can be made for a liability order. This gives the council additional recovery options, including attachment of earnings, attachment of benefit, and enforcement action.
People on low incomes may be eligible for council tax support to help them pay their bills. Wellingborough Council may be able to help by rescheduling payments and offering debt advice. The council also works closely with voluntary and community organisations that offer support and advice.
Anyone concerned about council tax should call 01933 231 693 as soon as possible.