Hard-up families face bailiffs knocking on their doors next month unless a ban on enforcement is extended, Labour warned tonight.
Debt collectors are banned from visiting homes until August 24 under moves to curb the spread of coronavirus.
That means people who have been plunged into arrears have been spared the ordeal of being chased over unpaid debts, such as parking fines or council tax.
But the restrictions on civil enforcement officers run out in five weeks – sparking fears poorer families face a cliff edge after falling further into debt during the pandemic.
Analysis from the debt charity StepChange shows about three million people face bailiff visits due to council tax arrears.
Some 820,000 are estimated to have incurred those because of the Covid-19 crisis, which has seen 9.3 million workers furloughed and tens of thousands of redundancies.
Labour has begun the formal parliamentary process to halt the plans.
Shadow Legal Aid Minister Karl Turner warned: “The last thing the public needs in the middle of a pandemic and the worst recession for generations is the threat of bailiffs knocking on their doors.
“As well as the turmoil and distress it would cause those in debt as a direct result of the crisis, it raises public health concerns around the possibility of transmission of the virus.
“The ban on bailiffs should be extended until public health restrictions are lifted.
“The Ministry of Justice should use the pause in bailiff visits to introduce a properly resourced and empowered independent bailiff regulator.”
Mr Turner has written to Justice Secretary Robert Bukland QC, who is also the Lord Chancellor, calling for a delay to the restart of bailiffs’ visits.
The letter, seen by the Mirror, says: “The Government were right to suspend in April home visits by bailiffs during the period in which coronavirus restrictions remain in place.
“The decision to now lift that suspension, despite ongoing public health restrictions and financial uncertainty, raises concerns over the possible transmission of Covid-19, sanctions those who have fallen into debt as a result of the pandemic, and wastes a golden opportunity for reform.
“Whilst I welcome gradual moves to ease the lockdown, I question the apparent urgency with which home visits have been re-introduced.
“Beginning on August 24, 2020, this comes before children fully return to school and many other businesses return to work, including those conducting home visits.
“August 24, from the present outlook, categorically falls within the definition of the ‘emergency period’ outlined in the original legislation, as restrictions are set to remain in place.”
A Ministry of Justice spokesman said: “Following public health guidance, enforcement visits from bailiffs were stopped during the pandemic and the situation is kept under review.
“We are currently looking at regulation of this sector and will respond in full to our call for evidence in due course.”