Bailiff crackdown ‘is not working’

Date:27th June 2013.
An image to illustrate a bailiff knocking on someones door.
Date:27th June 2013. An image to illustrate a bailiff knocking on someones door.

Charities say they are continuing to see widespread problems with the behaviour of bailiffs towards vulnerable people in financial difficulty, despite a crackdown on the issue.

Bodies including StepChange Debt Charity, the Children’s Society, Christians Against Poverty, Citizens Advice and the Money Advice Trust (MAT) have compiled evidence of ongoing problems in the bailiff industry.

Last year Wigan Council was warned about its use of bailiffs after it was named as one of the country’s most prolific users of the service, with debt collectors employed 20,822 times during the 2014-15 financial year.

That made Wigan the 43rd highest users of bailiffs out of 326 local authorities.

The organisations’ report claims people with money problems are not being adequately protected from unfair treatment, despite legal changes in 2014 covering bailiffs in England and Wales.

In 2013, the Government committed to strengthening protections against aggressive bailiffs, saying that while bailiffs are necessary for the economy and the justice system, a significant few were using intimidating behaviour, treating debtors unfairly and causing unnecessary distress.

But the charities’ report claims the reforms “have had only minimal impact”.

It calls for the bailiff industry to be independently regulated and a free, clear process to complain about bailiffs.

The charities have written to Justice Secretary Liz Truss urging a fundamental reform of bailiff law.

Joanna Elson, chief executive of the MAT, the charity that runs National Debtline, said: “Concerns over the impact of the bailiff’s knock at the door have long been raised by debt advice charities, based on the experiences of our clients week in, week out.

“Unfortunately, changes to the law in 2014 have failed to protect people in debt from poor practice, and we continue to see widespread problems with the behaviour of bailiffs and bailiff firms.”

Research for the report among 1,400 people who had been visited by a bailiff in the last six months found nearly a quarter had tried to arrange repayment over the phone but found the bailiff insisted on visiting anyway.

The report said the structure of bailiffs’ fees acts as an incentive to visit people’s homes.

Nearly a fifth of those surveyed said they were not contacted by the bailiff before they visited.

Mike O’Connor, chief executive of StepChange Debt Charity, said: “Our research shows that the 2014 bailiff reforms are not working.”