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We comment on the reimposition of bailiff visits:

“What people in Covid-19 hardship need is help, not draconian enforcement”

The Government has quietly introduced amending legislation to allow bailiffs to recommence visits to people’s homes and to take control of goods from 23 August, having previously suspended them during the coronavirus emergency. 

We believe this is unsafe, and deeply troubling when compared with the more careful approaches being taken in other sectors where regulators are closely overseeing the practices of firms.

We say it is too soon to be enforcing against debts owed to the government, especially given the fact that the Financial Conduct Authority has extended protection to the end of October for debts such as mortgages and consumer credit. Far too many households will still be vulnerable at this point, and a more considered plan to help them recover their finances without rushing to premature enforcement is needed.

Under the Taking Control of Goods and Certification of Enforcement Agents (Amendment) (No. 2) (Coronavirus) Regulations 2020, published last Friday and coming into force this Wednesday, 23 August is confirmed as the date from which bailiffs can recommence visits to people’s homes. With 820,000 people behind on council tax (where debt collection is often enforced through the use of bailiffs), there is a large group of people who are potentially at risk of harm from aggressive and unrealistic demands.

The 23 August date coincides with the previously-announced end date for the protection for tenants from eviction for rent arrears during the coronavirus crisis. With 590,000 people behind on rent, tenants are another group at serious risk if eviction without consideration of ability to pay is allowed to happen.

The lack of protection over bailiff enforcement – where firms still remain unregulated and continue to operate under an inadequate self-regulatory code - contrasts starkly with the approach being taken to FCA-regulated mortgages and consumer credit, and to the recently announced expectations in the energy sector where Ofgem has said “We expect suppliers (and any third parties contracted by them) to ensure that any debt management processes are fair and give careful consideration to the customer’s circumstances and ability to pay – we will not tolerate sharp practice or aggressive debt collection and suppliers could face enforcement action where this is the case.”

Peter Tutton, Head of Policy here at StepChange, says:

“We already know that households have built up over £6 billion of debt as a result of the coronavirus crisis, and that exiting this situation is going to require care and careful planning if we are to avoid serious financial hardship for millions of people. By the end of August, many households will still be facing great financial uncertainty.

“It’s shocking that the government prioritised reintroducing bailiff enforcement for debts like council tax over helping households reeling from the financial shock of lockdown. Government should be showing the way on enlightened debt practices but instead has fallen further behind the harm prevention approaches required of private sector lenders. We are still waiting for the improvements in council tax collection and bailiff regulation promised last year. What people in hardship need is help, not draconian enforcement.

“The suspension on rent evictions is due to end at the same time. a potential double jeopardy for people also struggling to pay rent. While the Government and FCA recently announced a welcome extension mortgage payment holidays and protection from repossession until the end of October, this does not seem to be being matched by joined-up thinking on the approach to tenants and to debts such as council tax.”

Notes to Editors

  1. StepChange is part of a coalition of charities under the banner of “Taking Control,” campaigning for reform and proper regulation of the bailiff industry. You can find out more about the work of the coalition here.
  2. StepChange is currently experiencing problems with imposter firms, who pass themselves off as the charity in order to misrepresent their services. If you are directing an advice seeker towards our services, please include a direct link to stepchange.org.

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