The government must immediately stop all bailiff doorstep visits to prevent serious risks to public health, a coalition of charities has warned today (14 January).
Taking Control, a group campaigning for regulation of the bailiff industry, is urging the government to extend the suspension of bailiff enforcement of rental evictions (announced on Friday 8 January) to include a suspension of bailiff visits for debt enforcement, as the pandemic enters its most dangerous phase.
In March last year, the government stopped bailiff enforcement visits, highlighting how risks of poor practice “could endanger the health of both enforcement agents and debtors.” However, visits (but not entry to homes) were allowed to resume in August and are currently still permitted. With senior government figures saying we're approaching the most dangerous phase of the pandemic, the suspension of bailiff visits urgently needs to be reintroduced.
Since visits resumed in August, Taking Control partners have seen concerning cases of aggressive and intimidating behaviour from bailiffs. These worrying findings validate the government’s previous concerns about the risks of poor practice. This cannot be allowed to continue during a national lockdown.
Tony, 63, is shielding due to ongoing medical issues. He contacted StepChange after he was visited twice by bailiffs, once during the second lockdown and once during the current lockdown:
“It’s very troubling to have someone come to 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.”
Christians Against Poverty client Carol was visited by a bailiff in November:
“Coming into the second lockdown, my anxiety had already risen. The guy who visited me was very arrogant and intimidating. 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.”
Phil Andrew, CEO here at StepChange, says:
“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's 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 CBE, Chief Executive of the Money Advice Trust, says:
“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.”
Notes to Editors
- Taking Control is a coalition of 12 charities and advice organisations campaigning for independent regulation of the bailiff industry and other reforms to ensure fair and appropriate treatment of financially vulnerable people facing debt enforcement. Members of the group are: AdviceUK, Christians Against Poverty, Citizens Advice, Community Money Advice, Institute of Money Advisers, Money Advice Trust, Money and Mental Health Policy Institute, PayPlan, StepChange Debt Charity, The Children’s Society, Toynbee Hall and Z2K
- In November 2020, Taking Control published a briefing that contained testimony of poor bailiff behaviour from StepChange, Citizens Advice and National Debtline advisers. You can
view the briefing here
- StepChange research found the number of people affected by coronavirus who are in severe problem debt has risen to 1.2m – nearly doubling since March
- Citizens Advice has seen 5,600 clients with over 13,700 issues related to bailiff enforcement since visits resumed
- StepChange saw a 652% increase in traffic to their bailiff advice webpages in August as households began to worry about potential visits