A cross-party group of ministers and peers have written to justice secretary, Robert Buckland, renewing calls for reform of the enforcement industry.
A year on after the Ministry of Justice closed its call for evidence on the bailiff industry, the government is yet to give a comprehensive response.
The Taking Control coalition, made up of 11 charities and debt advice organisations, has repeatedly called 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 enforcement industry is self-regulated.
To date the only commitment made by the government is making body-worn cameras mandatory for private bailiffs.
In their letter to Buckland, the cross-party group highlighted “the urgent need for bailiff reform” as recommended by the Justice Select Committee last April.
Russell Hamblin-Boone, chief executive of the Civil Enforcement Association, the professional body that represents bailiffs, 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.”
Phil Andrew, chief executive 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.”
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, 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.”