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Gravesham is bailiff capital of Kent
MORE than one in every 10 households in Gravesham have been visited by bailiffs in the past year, according to figures released this week.
Gravesham Council sent debt collectors round to 5,632 households - 13.4 per cent - the highest percentage in Kent.
A further 2,397 homes in Dartford were visited by bailiffs in the past 12 months - the third highest ratio in the county.
Mother-of-two Michelle Willison has had the bailiffs round to her Northfleet home chasing unpaid bills three times in the past year.
She said: "The government should stop council tax because no-one can afford it."
The 47-year-old, who moved to the Hive Estate in April, has been unable to work since being diagnosed with a serious illness three years ago.
Now the former pharmaceutical specialist relies on benefits to make ends meet.
She said: "I’ve worked all my life, I’ve never been out of work.
"The council have helped me out but for £100 a week but I’ve got to pay all bills, insurance for the car. It’s not enough.
"If you knock on doors round here they’ll tell you the same thing."
The statistics were obtained by debt charity The Money Advice Trust which sent Freedom of Information requests to all 374 local authorities in England and Wales.
The debt charity found councils across England and Wales referred debts to bailiffs on an "excessive" 1.8m occasions and is calling on local authorities to be more responsible in managing their debt collection.
Jo James, chief executive of Kent Invicta Chamber of Commerce, told News Shopper: "With household incomes being squeezed and costs continuing to rise, I am not surprised individuals are finding it difficult to meet their financial commitments.
"With council tax and business rates, it is one of those taxes where it is always best to speak with the council as early as possible, as there could be options available to spread the cost.
"Like all problems, the longer you leave them, the less options become available to you."
Meanwhile, almost two in 10 businesses in the borough were hit by debt collectors.
Gravesham Council says it only employs bailiffs as a "last resort" and only had one complaint in the last year while collecting a total of £900,000 in unpaid council tax and unpaid parking fines.
A spokesman said: "Every opportunity is given to those in arrears or have other outstanding debts to make arrangements to pay and come to agreement.
"Only when the council is satisfied that the debtor has the means to pay but will not pay are bailiffs called in."
He added: "Other options, such as attachment of income or benefits, are also explored and used as alternatives to the use of bailiffs."
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