"They'd put £1,100 on the debt in a day!"
Back in July, the Salford Poverty Truth Commission launched, with people from the city's community acting as Poverty Truth Commissioners, bravely telling their real life stories of hardship. Each Commissioner showed the audience a word which summed up their predicament and one that kept re-occurring was `Bailiffs'.
Speaking at the event was Commission sponsor, Salford City Mayor, Paul Dennett, who explained that, while poverty is seen in numerical terms, it's about "the lived experience...people in communities need to tell us".*
One of those unpaid Commissioners was Angela Barratt, who told of her experiences working on the streets with homeless people. Today, Angela has her own story of how Salford City Council put a Salford Poverty Truth Commissioner in more poverty...
Angela had a Council Tax debt of £365 for last year, couldn't pay it and in March got a notice for the `removal and sale of your goods' from Jacobs bailiffs, acting on behalf of Salford Council.
"I wasn't home that day, and the next day they posted another notice through saying I owed £1,465; they'd put £1,100 on the debt in a day" she recalls "I phoned the Council and they said I'd have to make arrangements to pay with these enforcement officers, and they wouldn't take the debt back and allow me to make a payment plan.
"I saw the bailiffs and they wouldn't let me make a plan unless I paid them the Council Tax debt of £365, and would then get me a payment card for the rest" she explains "I had to borrow the money because I'm on a low income which made me more in debt again. I then got a payment card for £1,100 which I'm still paying off."
Yesterday, although Angela hadn't missed a payment, she came home to find another `Removal' notice from Jacobs, for the £932 remainder of the debt...
"I was in shock" she says "I thought `Oh My God, just before Christmas; how is this allowed?'"
Angela again phoned Jacobs and was told that the company didn't have any proof of her income, even though she had to provide that before the payment card was issued in March. Jacobs stated that if she provided proof of income again they would cease action.
"I just think they wanted their money right away" says Angela "But why put me through the stress and worry of a debt that they've put me in, that's not even the Salford Council Tax bill? They must be doing this all over Salford. These are worse than loan sharks, for me they're basically terrorists, and they're not the only company.
"I think it's really unforgiving when I've got young children, do lots for the community and am struggling to live week in week out" she adds "And this kind of thing must also be a nightmare for other people with young families on low incomes. The first thing you do when you get one of these Removal notices is not answer the door because you're scared that everything you've got will be taken away."
That Jacobs bailiffs are working for a council which claims it wants to relieve poverty and is actively involved in the Salford Poverty Truth Commission, particularly gauls Angela. Salford Council, via its contracted bailiffs, are actually putting her and others into poverty...
"I would like people to come forward and tell what is going on in their homes in Salford, especially the elderly and people with young families" she says "Who doesn't owe money for Council Tax, Bedroom Tax or the rent these days? Our councillors are supposed to help us but this is absolutely disgusting. The Council needs to stop this straight away."
Salford's Mayor wanted to hear about "the lived experience". Here is just one example. But what's he going to do about it?
Jacobs work with 165 local authorities, and states on its website that it has a specialist management team "ensuring our services are fit for purpose". It further claims that "our Client Management and Development teams are all former Local Authority Senior Managers. This brings additional specialist understanding of Local Authority requirements..."
The Salford Star phoned Jacobs for a comment, and after holding on for ages due to `very high call volumes', finally got through only to be told that the company "doesn't deal with the press".
*For full details of the Salford Poverty Truth Commission see previous Salford Star articles – click here and click here