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A report titled ‘Taking Control’ by AdviceUK, The Children’s Society and StepChange found that despite some changes to the law in 2014, which placed further regulation on bailiffs to protect those in debt from unfair behaviour, some bailiffs are still abusing their powers when trying to recover debts. The government is set to review these laws soon. One industry body commented that the system had improved but could be better.
Increase in bailiff usage
The use of bailiffs is often the last resort by creditors trying to recover debts. They will act on the authority of the court and in some cases, have the right to seize property if the debtor fails to pay what they owe.
Although for many using a bailiff is a last resort, it has become commonplace in many areas, especially where unpaid council tax is concerned. From 2014 to the end of 2015, bailiffs were asked to pursue 2.1 million debts on behalf of councils in England and Wales.
The changes to the laws, introduced in 2014, were designed to provide those in debt with protection from over-aggressive bailiffs. They do this by banning bailiffs from entering your home at night, trying to impose unauthorised fees, and acting without authority or proof of identity.
However, the report found that some bailiffs are failing in their duties of care to the debtors they are visiting; failing to correctly assess the vulnerability of the debtor, not accepting offers of payment and regularly using intimidation techniques.
Calls for regulation
The charities who compiled this report have called for an independent regulator of bailiffs and an easy way for people to complain about the treatment they have received. Joanna Elson from the Money Advice Trust feels now is the best time for the government to deliver the necessary fundamental bailiff reforms.
While Gillian Guy, chief executive of Citizens Advice, feels that Local Authorities also have a part to play; “Harsh tactics by bailiffs can cause severe distress and push people even further into debt. Local authorities have a key role to play in stamping out bad practices – by treating people in arrears fairly and ensuring bailiffs are only ever used as a last resort.”
Local Government and Civil Enforcement have said those feeling as though they have been poorly treated, should contact their local council to make complaints. They also looked to reassure the public, that they are working hard to ensure all concerns are tackled effectively.
An HM Courts and Tribunals spokeswoman spoke to the BBC regarding the findings of the report; “The government is clear that aggressive enforcement action is not acceptable. Protecting the rights of the public is our top priority, which is why we’ve introduced robust rules on what goods an enforcement agent can or cannot take, how and when they can enter premises and what fees they can charge.”
If you have any concerns regarding treatment from bailiffs, get in contact with your local council as soon as possible to provide them with all the evidence they will need to investigate your case.
Despite the introduction of new laws to limit bailiffs abusing their power, a report from several charities in 2017 found that debtors are still receiving unfair treatment. Even though bailiffs are traditionally the last resort in debt recovery, their utilisation is becoming more and more commonplace, especially when recovering unpaid council tax.
This increase in usage and continued abuse of power has led to calls for independent regulation of the industry, and if necessary, reforms. Meanwhile, Local Government and Civil Enforcement have advised debtors to forward complaints to their local council.