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Ongoing bailiff activity in pandemic ‘a risk to public health’

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Bailiff visits for debt collection are allowed to continue during the pandemic, but charities warn they should be stopped to prevent serious risk to public health.

Last week, the government announced the ban on bailiff enforced evictions would be extended for a further six weeks until 21 February.

However, bailiff doorstep visits to recover debts can still continue during the latest national lockdown, even though they were stopped in March 2020 as the practice “could endanger the health of both enforcement agents and debtors”.

As the second wave of the pandemic now appears more serious than the first, charities are calling for the suspension of bailiff visits to be re-introduced.

Since visits were resumed in August, a 12-strong coalition of charities – Taking Control – claim they have seen concerning cases of aggressive and intimidating behaviour from bailiffs which they said cannot be allowed to continue during this latest national lockdown.

In one case seen, a 63-year-old who is shielding due to ongoing medical issues, contacted StepChange after being visited by bailiffs in the first and subsequent lockdown.

He said: “It’s very troubling to have someone come visit you in the middle of a lockdown without warning. I’m trying to keep my head down due to the virus. I only leave the house occasionally and don’t really see anyone, so I was just really surprised that someone would come and bang on the door and shout at me about an unpaid parking fine. We are constantly told to stay home and not make unnecessary journeys and save the NHS. That these debt collectors can travel to your home and actively seek to have contact with you isn’t right.”

In another case, a woman was visited by an “arrogant and intimidating” bailiff in November. She said: “He said to me that what I was paying was not enough and they would need to double it. I said I’m sorry I can’t do that, and he said we need £500 today. I was very scared; the experience was horrendous.”

‘Unconscionable that bailiffs should continue to make in-person visits’

Phil Andrew, CEO of StepChange, said: “At a time when coronavirus transmission is out of control, it is unconscionable that bailiffs should continue to be allowed to make in-person visits to people’s homes. The government’s move to stop bailiffs enforcing evictions was an appropriate response in the midst of this public health crisis. Bailiffs visiting people homes to collect debts also carries significant risks and should be suspended during the current lockdown.

“Enforcement will still be able to continue on the phone or through correspondence, but the risks of infections would be removed, and households would be protected from unreasonable financial demands and large additional enforcement costs at a time of national crisis.

“Coronavirus-related problem debt has nearly doubled since March and with England entering another tough national lockdown forcing businesses to shut, people need support rather than enforcement to deal with their debts. We understand the need to plug gaps in finances, but this must not come at the expense of people’s safety or making debt problems harder to deal with.”

Joanna Elson, chief executive of the Money Advice Trust, added: “As things stand, a voluntary measure is all that is in place to stop bailiffs entering properties during this latest lockdown – when we are in the midst of a health crisis this not acceptable. As was the case back in March last year, the government needs to go further by suspending bailiff visits completely. At a time when the risk to public health is so high, a ban on bailiff visits is needed urgently to protect both bailiffs and people in debt.”

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