A new report titled ‘Taking Control’ by AdviceUK, the Children’s Society and Stepchange has found that some bailiffs are still abusing their powers when trying to recover debts. This is despite changes to the law three years ago which placed further regulation on bailiffs to protect those in debt from unfair behaviour.
Three years after the laws were brought in, they have failed to stop some rogue bailiffs in England and Wales from taking part in this sort of behaviour. The government is set to review these laws soon. One industry body commented that the system had improved but could be better.
The use of bailiffs is usually one of last resort by creditors to try and recover debts which they are owed. 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 to their creditor.
Although, for many creditors 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, which were introduced in 2014, are 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 fees which have not been authorised 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 as they are failing to correctly assess the vulnerability of the debtor, not accepting offers of payment and they are regularly intimidating debtors.
The charities who compiled this report have now called for an independent regulator of bailiffs and an easy way for people to complain about treatment they have received. Joanna Elson from the Money Advice Trust feels that now is the best time for the government to deliver fundamental bailiff reform which is necessary.
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.”
Spokespeople for Local Government and Civil Enforcement said that those that have concerns about the way they have been treated by bailiffs should contact their local council to make a complaint whilst also reassuring the public that they are working hard to ensure all concerns are tackled effectively.
A 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.