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 (MOJ) 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.
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.”
Russell Hamblin-Boone, chief executive of the Civil Enforcement Association, said “We have written to the Ministry of Justice to urge that the government publishes its response to the Call for Evidence. In the last year we have launched an independently-monitored code of practice that sets a new standard over and beyond existing regulations. This ground-breaking initiative involves a code auditor visit and review by an independent expert panel of experts in compliance, complaints handling, regulation and consumer affairs. It is essential that those who recover unpaid court fines and government debts operate to the highest standards of conduct. The Call for Evidence is an opportunity to acknowledge the success of the reforms and ensure that the use of enforcement continues to be fair and proportionate.”
“In our letter to the Minister we stress that, each year CIVEA members receive over 3.5 million warrants and court orders. The code is a commitment by the enforcement industry to continue driving up standards and setting a high bar for anyone who wants to join our profession. We are the primary stakeholder in the Call for Evidence and as such we urge the government to publish its response, taking into account the proactive initiatives of our members, which will set the path for future reform.”