Herefordshire Council sent bailiffs to collect thousands of debts last year, a new report reveals.

The Money Advice Trust says bailiffs should only be called in as a last resort, and is urging the Government to implement a national strategy to reduce their use across England and Wales.

Freedom of Information requests by the Money Advice Trust, which operates the National Debtline, show that Herefordshire Council referred 4,509 debts to bailiffs in 2018-19.

That's 803 fewer than two years earlier, a drop of 15 per cent.

Bailiffs, also known as enforcement agents, visit properties to remove and sell goods for the repayment of certain debts, including council tax arrears, parking notices and others owed to the council.

Joanna Elson, chief executive of the Money Advice Trust, said: "Bailiff action is harmful to people in debt, and these findings should concern us all.

"Reforming the law around bailiff action itself is vital if we are to protect people from harm.

"Of equal importance, however, is reducing the number of debts that are being passed to bailiffs in the first place.

"Bailiff action should only ever be used as a last resort, and can be avoided by early intervention, providing free debt advice, and agreeing affordable repayment arrangements.

The research also looked at how local authorities manage debt collection.

It found 99 per cent of councils, including Herefordshire Council, point residents in financial difficulty in the direction of free debt advice.

The council does not employ the Standard Financial Statement, a tool designed by debt and credit experts to objectively assess the financial situation of individuals.

Further debt collection practices mentioned in the report include exempting recipients of Council Tax Support from bailiff action, and signing the Citizens' Advice Council Tax Protocol, which aims to prevent people from getting into debt.

But in Herefordshire, council tax support recipients are not exempted from bailiff action, and the council has not signed up to the protocol.

Herefordshire Council said the use of bailiffs is a last resort.

"Herefordshire Council would advise anyone struggling to pay their Council Tax, or any other council debt, to contact the council as soon as possible," a spokesperson said.

"Repayment plans can be set up and the availability of any applicable discounts can be reviewed.

"Instructing an enforcement agent, or bailiff, is always the very last debt recovery tool we use, as determined by the council’s debt recovery policy."

The Local Government Association argued that councils "have a duty to their residents" to collect unpaid debts, but said it was working with Citizens Advice to develop fairer recovery and enforcement policies, including exemptions for vulnerable families.