Local authorities in England and Wales used bailiffs to collect debts more than 2 million times last year, according to new research.
The Money Advice Trust (MAT), which carried out the study, said that amounted to a 16% increase over the last two years.
It said that sending in bailiffs was likely to make debt problems worse.
Local authorities blamed cuts in government funding, and said bailiffs were only ever used as a last resort.
Enforcement agents, as they are officially known, were mainly used to collect Council Tax debts.
Such debts are one of the fastest growing issues being handled by National Debtline, which is run by the MAT.
“Something is seriously wrong here,” said Joanna Elson, the chief executive of the MAT.
“On the front line of debt advice we know that sending the bailiffs in can deepen debt problems, rather than solve them – and it can also have a severe impact on the wellbeing of people who are often already in a vulnerable situation.”
For its research the MAT made freedom of information requests to all 375 councils in England and Wales, and received replies from 95% of them.