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Government tackles bailiff bad practice

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Written by:
07/05/2019
Charities have welcomed a new government commitment to bring local and national debt collection practices in line with industry best practice and its own fairness principles.

In a joint public statement from the Fairness Group within the Cabinet office, the government said it had been building closer working partnerships with the advice sector and had agreed a number of principles on how the two sides will work together.

Specifically:

– understanding the impact that debt collection practices can have and how to improve them

– implementing a joint programme of work to further examine practices in central and local government debt management which support vulnerable people, and make evidence-based recommendations for change

– applying Fairness Principles to government debt management, in line with sector best practice

– balancing the statutory and societal obligations of government to collect debts and ongoing liabilities, and prevent fraudulent activity, with the need to ensure fairness

The group said it wanted to balance ensuring that those people who can pay, do so on time, while providing proportionate support to vulnerable people and those in financial hardship.

Kevin Foster, Minister for the Constitution, said: “I am pleased to announce a joint statement on how government and the debt advice sector work together to continually improve how we interact with people in vulnerable circumstances. The Cabinet Office plays a vital role in setting the strategy to ensure those who can pay their debts do so on time, whilst providing proportionate support to those who need it.”

The move is the latest part of a co-ordinated effort to improve the behaviour of debt collectors. A recent report from Citizens Advice showed a significant gap between complaints reported by the debt advice charities, which were high, and the small numbers reported by the enforcement agencies, industry associations and others. It said the current complaints system was fragmented and hard to navigate, especially for vulnerable people.

Citizens’ Advice said that around 1 in 3 people contacted by bailiffs in the last two years – around 850,000 people – have seen a bailiff breaking national standards. It saw a 24% increase in complaints about bailiffs from 2014/15 to 2017/18.

The StepChange Debt Charity welcomed the government’s commitment to improving government debt collection practices. Peter Tutton, head of policy at StepChange Debt Charity, said: “StepChange knows the importance for those in financial difficulties of getting the right help and forbearance from creditors in reducing debt harm and supporting recovery from problem debt. Unfortunately, government debt collection practice does not always match best practice, so this commitment from Government is a significant stepping stone to matching standards of fairness we see elsewhere.

“Now this statement needs to be supported by lasting change; such as Government accepting the recommendations made last month by the House of Commons Justice Committee on introducing independent regulation of bailiffs’.

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