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Justice Committee report aims to clamp down on bailiffs

Cherry Reynard
Written By:
Cherry Reynard

A new report from the Justice Ministry sets out to tackle rogue bailiffs and how complaints are handled.

The report 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 Committee of cross-party MPs proposed an independent complaints body, to which all complaints about bailiffs should be escalated if the complainant has exhausted local complaints procedures. This complaints body should have straightforward procedures and be easy to navigate. It should be able to stop unfit enforcement agents and companies from practising and have the power to set intermediate sanctions such as fines for poor behaviour.

The report showed bailiffs are under-regulated compared with other sectors, including debt collection and the existing system of individual certification by the courts seems to be ‘a rubber-stamping exercise’.

Fees also came under scrutiny: “The fee structure deserves close attention, since it has not been properly reviewed or updated since its introduction in 2014, despite a Government commitment at the time to do so annually in the light of Consumer Price Index (CPI) inflation. Equally, given that these fees are paid by some of the poorest people in society, it is also vital that the fees are proportionate” said the report.

“Well-considered and important”

Peter Tutton, head of policy at debt charity StepChange, said: “This is a well-considered and important report from the Justice Committee, and its recommendations to drive much-needed reform and oversight of the bailiff sector are welcome. Enforcement by bailiffs is intrusive and places disproportionate costs on people in the most vulnerable circumstances. With our research estimating 850,000 cases of bailiff misconduct in the past two years, the case for change is urgent.

“We are pleased to see the report’s recommendations for the establishment of an independent complaints procedure and independent regulation of the bailiff sector. It is also key that the committee have recommended oversight of the fees charged by bailiffs to ensure these are proportionate and just. With powerful cross-party consensus supporting an independent bailiff watchdog and new complaints body, the case for independent bailiff regulation has never been stronger.

“The Ministry of Justice must now act quickly to introduce a properly resourced, independent bailiff regulator. We call on the Government to introduce a Bill bringing these recommendations into effect in the next Queen’s Speech.”