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Bailiff visits to return as lockdown measures eased

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A charity has slammed the return of bailiff activity as ‘unfair and unsafe’ as thousands continue to struggle financially amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The Civil Enforcement Association (CIVEA) has today announced plans for a ‘phased return of activity’ as lockdown restrictions have been eased.

It said it consulted the government on the plan which will mean local authorities and courts can enforce overdue council tax, business rates, parking and traffic penalties and magistrates’ court fines.

Anyone who has missed a payment or been out of contact will receive a standard reconnection letter asking them to respond with how they have been affected by the Covid-19 crisis.

When enforcement can resume following the lifting of emergency regulations, individuals will be given 30 days’ notice of a visit by an enforcement agent (unless the local authority has specific requirements).

CIVEA added that visits will be contactless and that bailiffs will not enter premises to take goods. Where appropriate, vulnerable people or those who have been severely impacted financially by the pandemic, e.g. loss of job, Statutory Sick Pay, will be referred to debt advice agencies for additional support.

‘Unfair and unsafe’

However, StepChange has branded the return of bailiffs “unfair and unsafe” and is urging the government to act to regulate the industry, as well as bring in measures to support those hardest hit by the pandemic.

Peter Tutton, head of policy at StepChange debt charity, said: “While we welcome CIVEA’s pledge to treat those affected by Covid-19 with additional consideration, we cannot entrust the duty of care of financially vulnerable people to an unregulated industry whose collection practices have caused significant harm in the past.

“Any return to enforcement action, phased or otherwise, must be preceded by government-led measures that protect those affected by Covid-19. This includes putting affordable repayment plans in place for council tax arrears before resorting to enforcement action, and taking into account vulnerability and financial circumstances before acting.

“Alongside temporary measures to help those affected by the pandemic, the government must finally act to regulate the bailiff industry and bring the sector up to the standards of consumer protection common elsewhere in debt recovery. With millions of people struggling with Covid-19 related debts, it is unfair and unsafe for the government to restart enforcement without these safeguards.”

Russell Hamblin-Boone, chief executive of CIVEA, said: “CIVEA members fully accept that to simply restart enforcement visits once the government eases restrictions without understanding how people have been impacted by the crisis would not be acceptable.

“The measures included in the post-lockdown support plan are a sensible and proactive response to an exceptional situation. Enforcement of public debt continues to be an important service to recover outstanding taxes and fines, which contributes to funding essential local services. Our plan allows us to carry out our civic duties in line with public health advice.”

All enforcement visits by CIVEA members were suspended voluntarily by 23 March.

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