A bailiff bangs on a door to recover council debts at least once every 15 minutes in Sussex.

Councils across Sussex used bailiffs on 35,000 occasions in the last financial year as they chased up unpaid council tax, car parking fines and other unpaid bills.

Figures obtained by The Argus show that councils used bailiffs to chase at least £7.5 million in unpaid fines and taxes.

Charities working with people on low incomes say they fear that the use of bailiffs could increase even more in April next year when Government cuts to benefits take effect.

The responses from ten county, city and borough councils across the county show that bailiffs were used to pursue unpaid business rates of more than £20,000 and for unpaid parking tickets of just £5.

Councils made use of bailiffs on more than 500 more occasions than the previous financial year and pursued debts totalling almost £1 million more.

Brighton and Hove City Council used bailiffs almost 15,000 times in 2011/12 – an average of 40 a day.

Two thirds of these were used to pursue unpaid parking tickets compared to just 23 parking fines chased up by Chichester District Council over the same period.

Unpaid bills

Lewes District Council sent bailiffs to businesses owing more than £20,000 in business rates on five occasions since 2008, but failed to recover a single penny.

Eastbourne Borough Council used bailiffs to recover a range of unpaid bills including the boarding fees of stray dogs and unpaid hire fees for sports pitches and halls.

Tony Greenstein from the Brighton Unemployed Centre said: “I think councils are sending in the bailiffs first and asking questions later which causes considerable distress for people.

“It’s going to get much, much worse come April.

“In many cases it’s uneconomical for the council because if it sends bailiffs in to people who can’t pay, then it’s the council that have to pay and bailiffs don’t come cheap.”

He added that he advised visitors to the centre not to allow bailiffs into their home as they had no legal right of entry.

Anne Duggan, money adviser at the Citizens Advice Bureau in Hove, said she was also concerned that there could be a lot more who will be liable in April, but added: “I don’t know what else the council can do because our services have to be paid for.”

A Brighton and Hove City Council spokesman said if a resident failed to pay their council tax, officials would send a bill, then a reminder, a summons and finally a Liability Order notification letter.

He added sending bailiffs was a “last resort” but the council has “a duty to residents who pay their council tax and parking fines to pursue residents who do not”.

A Chichester District Council spokeswoman said: “The use of bailiffs is one of a number of enforcement options we use.”

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