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Bailiff reforms ‘not working’, say charities

Joanna Faith
Written By:
Joanna Faith

Bailiffs are still using harsh tactics when collecting debt, despite changes to the bailiff laws introduced in 2014.

A report published today by a group of debt and advice charities says some bailiffs still regularly use intimidating behaviour, fail to accept affordable payment offers and do not take account of vulnerable clients.

The report from AdviceUK, Christians Against Poverty, Citizens Advice, Money Advice Trust, StepChange Debt Charity, The Children’s Society and Z2K, comes as the government approaches a promised three-year review of the changes.

The charities are calling on the Ministry of Justice to introduce an independent regulator covering all bailiffs, a single complaints mechanism and a restructuring of bailiff fees to incentivise good practice, alongside other reforms.

Evidence of poor practice

New research compiled by the charities found that of 1,400 people who had been visited by a bailiff in the last six months, 24% had tried to arrange repayment over the phone but found the bailiff insisted on visiting anyway. Nearly a fifth (17%) were not contacted by the bailiff before they visited.

Both of these are examples of non-compliance with the 2014 regulations.

Last year, Citizens Advice helped people with 82,000 issues related to bailiff action – with 57,000 issues related to council tax debt.

Research from the Money Advice Trust, the charity that runs National Debtline, shows local authorities, the largest user of bailiffs, in England and Wales passed 2.1 million debts to bailiffs in the space of just 12 months in 2014/15, a rise of 16% on two years previously.

Joanna Elson, chief executive of the Money Advice Trust, 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.”

Citizens Advice chief executive, Gillian Guy, said: “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.”