Charities call for reform of bailiff procedure

A new report published today by a coalition of debt charities has called on councils to do more to prevent the use of bad practice by bailiffs.

Taking Control (produced by advice UK, Christians Against Poverty, Citizens Advice, Money Advice Trust, Step Change, The Children’s Society and Z2K) highlighted that changes to the law covering bailiffs introduced in April 2014 have failed to protect people in financial difficulty from unfair treatment. It showed that councils had passed 2.1 million debts to bailiff in the year 2014-15, a 16 per cent rise on 2012-13’s figures.

The report found that 24 per cent of 1,400 people who had been visited by a bailiff in the last six months had tried to arrange repayment by phone but that the bailiff insisted on visiting anyway.

17 per cent of respondents also said they were not contacted by the bailiff before they visited, which does not comply with the 2014 regulations.

One in six clients surveyed had been visited by bailiffs in the previous year and half of them reported being treated unfairly. 16 per cent said they felt forced to take out more credit to deal with bailiffs’ demands.

Citizens Advice cited that it had helped people with 82,000 issues related to bailiff action, of which 57,000 were related to bailiff enforcement of council tax debt alone.

Gillian Guy, Citizens Advice chief executive, commented: “Harsh tactics by bailiffs can cause severe distress and push people even further into debt. Last year, Citizens Advice helped people with over 80,000 bailiff problems - with the majority related to enforcement action on council tax debts.

“Local authorities have a key role to play in stamping out bad practices - by treating people in arrears fairly and ensuring bailiffs are only ever used as a last resort.”

Responding to the report, Claire Kober, chair of the Local Government Association’s (LGA) resources board, said: “The LGA has worked closely with Citizens Advice on a protocol for councils using bailiffs when recovering debts. It includes the need for fair collection and enforcement policies and the ability for councils to take back cases involving vulnerable families.

“We agree that bailiffs should only ever be used as a last resort.

“Before the situation reaches a stage where bailiffs are involved several letters should have been written, people should have been encouraged to apply for financial support, and efforts should be made to arrange new payment plans or to attach the debt to a salary.”

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