An MP is calling for an independent regulator to enforce the rules controlling bailiffs as new research reveals they are flouting new rules designed to curb aggressive behaviour.
Labour MP Emma Reynolds has won a demand for a House Of Commons debate on bailiffs behaviour.
A law unto themselves
She said: “We can’t let bailiffs become a law unto themselves.
It is not just a few bad apples but countless cases of bailiffs breaking the rules and using aggressive behaviour.
“Short of taking a bailiff to court, people have nobody to complain to. The public must be better protected from heavy-handed bailiffs.”
New rules defining what bailiffs are allowed to do in carrying out their work were introduced four years ago.
Further reforms are planned after debt charities complained about the flouting of rules last year which left people in financial hardship stressed, anxious and slipping further into debt.
Bailiff firms are self-regulated, but research has revealed that a third of the 2.2 million people who received bailiff visits in the past two years experienced activities which pushed the limits of the law like forcing entry into homes and taking away goods which were needed for work.
One in five consumers were threatened with a break-in or witnessed unsympathetic treatment of someone with a disability.
Experts believe the aggressive behaviour is widespread because people don’t know who to complain to.
Citizen’s Advice chief executive Gillian Guy said: “People who suffer at the hands of rule-breaking bailiffs often don’t know where to turn.
“The system is so complicated and frightening, and can deter people from getting help.
All of this means bailiffs can be cavalier with the rules that were designed to protect those who are struggling.”
An investigation by the charity found:
- Bailiffs are refusing to accept affordable payment offers or are pressing people to make unrealistic offers.
- Bailiffs are misrepresenting their rights of entry
- Bailiffs are taking control of goods inappropriately, including exempt items and goods which don’t belong to the person who owes the debt.
- Bailiffs are acting aggressively towards people in debt, thereby failing to conduct their duties in ‘a professional, calm and dignified manner’.
- Bailiffs are acting unsympathetically towards vulnerable people.
The investigation concluded: “Our evidence shows that reforms to the industry in 2014 haven’t worked. Not only do bailiffs visit people highly likely to be vulnerable, they also visit them at difficult times in their lives.
Yet, unlike other sectors, such as water, energy, and financial services, there’s no independent regulator to hold bailiffs to account.”
Ms Guy added: “The 2014 reforms were well intentioned but sadly have had little effect on improving the behaviour of some bailiffs.
“Faced with the evidence we’ve put in front of them, the Ministry of Justice has no other option but to establish an independent bailiff regulator.”