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Cross party group urges Government to act on bailiff reform

Campaigners demand: ‘we’ve waited long enough’

17 February 2020

A group of cross-party MPs and Peers has joined a coalition of debt advice campaigners in urging the Government to break its silence on bailiff industry reform.

Today marks a year since the Ministry of Justice closed its call for evidence on the bailiff industry, but despite overwhelming evidence of the need for wide-ranging reform, the Government is yet to give a comprehensive response.

The Taking Control coalition, made up of 11 charities and debt advice organisations, has routinely seen its clients suffer at the hands of bailiffs. New figures show that since February 2019, Citizens Advice alone has been contacted by 41,121 individuals with 111,081 issues specific to bailiffs. Meanwhile 83% of callers to National Debtline who experienced bailiff action reported the bailiff visit had a negative impact on their wellbeing.

Backing the coalition’s call is a group of cross-party politicians, including Rachel Reeves MP and Lord Pickles, who have today written to Justice Secretary Robert Buckland MP highlighting the urgent need for bailiff reform as recommended by the Justice Select Committee last April.

The Committee endorsed the charities’ call for the introduction of an independent complaints body, a statutory, independent regulator for the enforcement agent industry and regular reviews of bailiff fees. Currently, the bailiff industry is self-regulating.

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The human cost of bailiff behaviour

Last year, Citizens Advice heard from a client who owed over £3,000 in council tax debts. Bailiffs were sent to collect the debt, they were let into the property and a levy of goods was taken.

The bailiffs requested monthly payments of more than twice the client’s monthly income and, when told that the client couldn’t pay that, the bailiffs advised them to borrow the money.

Knowing that the goods seized won’t cover the debt, the client is afraid the bailiffs will return to take what little they have left.

To date the only commitment made by the government is making body-worn cameras mandatory for private bailiffs, but, without independent regulation, this measure will not be enough.

Phil Andrew, CEO of StepChange, said: “Since 2017 the Taking Control campaign has called for reform of the bailiff industry, driven by the experience of our clients whose lives have been turned upside down by the unregulated bailiff sector.

“We’ve waited long enough for the kind of meaningful reform that has successfully reduced harm in other areas of debt recovery. The simple truth is that, on bailiffs, the Government is woefully behind the curve. We have the evidence, we have support from across parliament and the Lords - it’s now time for the Government to act.”

Dame Gillian Guy, Chief Executive of Citizens Advice, said: “While the government drags its feet on bailiff reform, someone seeks our help every three minutes with an issue related to bailiffs.

“This cannot continue. Only independent regulation of bailiffs will protect vulnerable people from the stress, anxiety and financial hardship they face right now.”

Joanna Elson, chief executive of the Money Advice Trust, the charity that runs National Debtline, said: “The longer the government delays acting on this problem, the more people in debt will suffer from the negative impact that bailiff action can have – on their finances, mental and physical health and their family life. We know that 2.6 million debts were passed to bailiffs by local authorities alone in 2018/19 – and that this total continues to rise.

“We urgently need the government to take action to introduce independent regulation of bailiffs and bailiff firms and a robust complaints mechanism, as recommended by the Justice Select Committee. People in financial difficulty cannot wait any longer.”

Steve Johnson, CEO, AdviceUK, said: “Every day AdviceUK members are seeing people whose lives are being made a misery because bailiffs break the rules. Advisers routinely see bailiffs refusing reasonable offers of repayment, misrepresenting their powers, taking control of other people’s goods, failing to treat vulnerable people sympathetically and engaging in aggressive behaviour.

“This must stop and the Government must act, and act now, to introduce independent regulation of the bailiff industry.”

Media contacts

will.berrington@stepchange.org 02073 914 598

simon.trevethick@stepchange.org 02073 914 580

sue.anderson@stepchange.org 02073 914 582

Out of hours - 07985 404 153

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