Spanish law allows a leisurely 94 days to settle bills, compared with a European average of 30 days.
It can take three years to pursue a debtor through the courts, during which time the company may have gone bust or changed its name.
Chasing bad debts has grown 30 per cent this year, says Juan Carlos Granda, a director of El Cobrador del Frac, adding: "We expect demand for our services to soar in the autumn and winter as the crisis deepens." Following the collapse of Spain's building boom, the clients who use the company to get their debts repaid are mostly small and medium-sized construction firms.
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El Cobrador del Frac – "The Debt Collector in Top Hat and Tails" – is a nationwide operation which sends employees dressed like Hollywood villains to collect debts.
To underline the message, the theatrically-clad collector carries a black briefcase with his calling spelled out in capital letters.
THIRTY-FOUR people have been sentenced to prison for not paying their council tax in Bradford in the past two years.
The new figures include seven single parents, it has been revealed.
Cllr Swallow said she feared for the human cost of locking people up - especially parents - when they simply could not afford to pay their bills.