Crackdown to stop bailiffs using aggressive tactics
Sweeping changes to the way bailiffs can enforce debt repayments come into force in England and Wales on Sunday.
The new laws include a ban on bailiffs entering homes at night and from using physical force against debtors.
Bailiffs will also be prevented from entering homes when only children are present, and from taking household essentials such as washing machines.
Citizens' Advice Bureau said the rules needed to go further, and called for greater accountability in the industry.Mandatory training
The current law relating to enforcement by the seizure and sale of goods is complex, unclear and confusing.
There are also different types of bailiffs and enforcement officers, depending on the type of debt being recovered.
This confusion can result in bailiffs and enforcement officers misrepresenting their legal authority.
There is anecdotal evidence of some bailiffs using aggression and excessive force, and the costs regime is complex. Each enforcement power has a different cost structure and the charging process is prone to abuse.
In addition, regulation is fragmented with some elements of the industry being tightly regulated, while others are only subject to informal regulation through trade associations.
There are currently no set training standards. Reform had been in discussion for years; finally it is going to happen.
Bailiffs are estimated to collect four million debts a year in the UK.
The new changes will come into effect on 6 April and follow the Ministry of Justice consultation on the debt collection industry last year.
They are part of a wider package of reforms to the Tribunals, Courts & Enforcement Act 2007.
The new rules will also:
- Ban landlords from using bailiffs to seize property for residential rent debts without going to court first
- Introduce mandatory training and certification for bailiffs
- Ensure vulnerable people get assistance and that bailiffs are trained to recognise them
- Introduce clearer rules detailing when a bailiff can enter a property and what goods they can take
- Bring in restrictions on when bailiffs can sell goods
- Require bailiffs to tell the court the likely means of entry, goods involved and amount of force required before a warrant is granted to force entry, as well as provide details of how the premises will be left in a secure state afterwards
- Force bailiffs to give seven days' notice before taking possessions, unless they have specific permission from a court
- Introduce fixed fees, ending the ability of bailiffs to add excessive charges to the amount debtors had to pay
Spike Watson's story
I sold my camper van. The new owner drove it home and got a congestion charge fine and then two tickets outside his home in Brixton.
I have proved to the bailiffs this occurred after I had sold the van but they text, email, phone and visit at least once daily, sometimes more.
In desperation I paid the bailiffs £400 at Christmas but they started hounding me again in March for more money. I have been to the police, CAB, and now need medication for anxiety.
It is still ongoing despite me sending them more recorded delivery of evidence. I believe in paying tickets when they are genuinely issued but these are not my fines.
The bailiff who comes to me is like a robot. He is due back any day now. The last time he came was last week. It was 7.30am in the morning and he was recording. This is a only a parking ticket and it is really intimidating. I pay my dues and I always have done. This is wrong.
They even told me that I could have faked all the evidence. I am a 56-year-old grandmother and usually very forthright. This has brought me to my knees.
Karen Dyson from the Citizens' Advice Bureau told the BBC: "Citizens' advice bureaus across the country deal with over a thousand inquiries about bailiff problems every a week.
"Obviously this is not the majority of bailiffs, but it is a significant minority.
"We are really pleased to see these new rules. It's a real chance for bailiff companies to review the way their staff are operating."
She added that the Citizens' Advice Bureau would ideally like the rules to go further and see a "licensing system" introduced, which would see firms struck off, if bailiffs break the rules.
Steve Everson from the Civil Enforcement Association - which represents bailiffs in England and Wales - added: "It's a tidying up, and a tightening up, of regulations and legislation that has built up over hundreds of years.
"The whole thing is designed to get more professionalism within the industry."'Desperation'
Resident Spike Watson of Weybridge said she believed the law needed to change, and told the BBC how she was currently being hounded by bailiffs for debts, which she claims do not belong to her.
She said bailiffs had been wrongly chasing her money ever since she had sold her camper van. She believes the debts they are chasing are that of the camper van's new owner.
"It is still ongoing despite me sending them more recorded delivery of evidence. I believe in paying tickets when they are genuinely issued but these are not my fines," she said.
Some bailiffs' organisations have previously welcomed the legal changes, saying reforms were overdue and the problem of aggressive bailiffs needed to be tackled.
Commenting on the changes, Justice Secretary Chris Grayling said: "Aggressive bailiff activity is unacceptable and it is high time that the cowboys out there are stopped from giving the rest of this important industry a bad name.
"People will still have to face up to their debts, but they will no longer need to fear their home being raided at night, the threat of violence or having their vital household equipment seized."