This LGO decision is about bailiff enforcement and whether a single parent is considered vulnerable. As in previous decisions, the Ombudsman stated that  the debtor needs to  provide evidence to show how her ‘vulnerability’ (in this case; being a single parent)  affects her ability to pay or to deal with the debt.

A short analysis of the decision is below. The full decision can be viewed on the Local Government Ombudsman’s  website here.

The Complaint

Miss X complained to the Ombudsman via her MP that the council had used bailiff to try to collect a disputed council tax debt, even though she was vulnerable.

The Background

The debt related to a Liability Order obtained in 2010. Miss X disputed the debt saying that she should have received council tax benefit. The council confirmed she had made a claim for backdated council tax benefit but that her application had been refused as it was outside the time limit for backdating benefit.

Miss X sent the bailiffs a ‘cease and desist’ notice saying that as a single parent to a seven year old daughter, that she was a vulnerable person and that the bailiff should not take any action to recover the debt.

The bailiff company wrote to Miss X asking for further information so that they could assess her situation and decide how it affected her ability to pay. Miss X did not send the information that the bailiff company had requested. As a consequence, the enforcement agent visited her twice more. She then complained to the council.

The Local Government Ombudsman’s decision

In Paragraph 14 of his decision, the Ombudsman,  referred to the Taking Control of Goods National Standards 2014 and in particular; to Paragraph 77 which lists some groups who may be considered vulnerable. A single parent family is included in the list.

The Ombudsman stated that the Guidance is clear in that if a debtor falls into the list, (in this case because of being a single parent) the bailiff must assess the individual case to see if they should take extra care in recovering the debt. Of importance, the Ombudsman said this:

‘Just because a debtor is a single parent does not, of itself, mean they are vulnerable’

Final decision:

The Ombudsman stated that he would not investigate the complaint as Miss X did not send any evidence to the enforcement company to support her claim (to being vulnerable) and that as a consequence; he could find no fault in either the Council or the bailiffs recovery action.

Commentary from Bailiff Advice

If you are vulnerable; and and have received a letter or a visit from a bailiff, you can send a question to Bailiff Advice in confidence, using our online Enquiry Form.  Alternatively, you can contact our free helpline. Details are on our Contact page.