MORE than £3 million in unpaid council tax debt is owed to West Berkshire Council, new data reveals. 

The amount of debt owed to the council has increased by almost £1 million in the last five years: from £2,133.987 in 2014 to £3,031,396 at March 31, this year, according to a freedom of information request. 

Each year the council refers around 1,600 debts to bailiffs to collect. Bailiffs have the right to visit homes to take away and sell goods to pay debts, including council tax debt. 

Last year, West Berkshire Council referred 1,516 council tax debts to bailiffs for collection, according to the freedom of information request. 

Joanna Elson OBE, chief executive of the Money Advice Trust, said: “Councils are under enormous financial pressure, and they of course need to recover what they are owed in order to fund vital services. 

“However, many councils are far too quick to turn to bailiff action — which we know can seriously harm the wellbeing of residents who are often already in vulnerable situations.”

Half of people in problem debt have a mental health problem, and visits from bailiffs can often exacerbate those problems, according to the Money and Mental Health Policy Institute. 

In a recent report the institute said: “We frequently hear about the negative impact of bailiff action on people’s mental health, even to the point of triggering suicidal feelings and mental health crises.”

West Berkshire Council did not respond to questions about what steps the council takes to make sure bailiffs aren’t sent to vulnerable people, or what support the council offers for those who struggle to pay their council tax.