Bailiffs are still using “intimidating behaviour” and not following the rules when collecting debts, according to a new report launched by several charities.
The Taking Control report also claimed that bailiffs are “failing” to accept affordable payment offers and “failing” to take account of vulnerable clients.
In 2014, legal reforms were introduced to strengthen protections against the “unsound, unsafe or unfair methods” that “rogue bailiffs” used.
The charities’ report, launched in parliament this week by AdviceUK, Christians Against Poverty, Citizens Advice, Money Advice Trust, StepChange Debt Charity, The Children’s Society and Z2K, comes as the government approaches a promised three-year review of the changes.
The charities are calling on the Ministry of Justice to introduce an independent regulator covering all bailiffs in England and Wales and a single complaints system.
Research conducted as part of the report surveyed 1,400 people who had been visited by a bailiff in the last six months.
Nearly a quarter had tried to arrange repayment over the phone but found the bailiff insisted on visiting anyway and nearly a fifth said they were not contacted by the bailiff before they visited.
Both of these are examples of non-compliance within the 2014 regulations, the charities said.
Some of StepChange Debt Charity’s clients admitted they felt forced to take out more credit to deal with bailiffs’ demands.
Gillian Guy, chief executive of Citizens Advice, said: “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.”
The report makes several recommendations for further reforms, including the restructuring of bailiff fees to incentivise good practice and a simple procedure to suspend action by bailiffs.
The charities have called upon action from creditors, and local authorities in particular, to ensure bailiffs are only ever used as a last resort.
The charities have written to secretary of state for justice Liz Truss to make the case for what they call a “fundamental reform” of bailiff law, and have launched a website allowing people visited by bailiffs to share their experiences.
One comment on the website, shared by a caller to StepChange Debt Charity, described how a bailiff had text them saying they were coming to remove goods and to “get home now if you want to watch your goods being removed”.
Joanna Elson, chief executive of the Money Advice Trust, the charity that runs National Debtline, said: “Unfortunately, changes to the law in 2014 have failed to protect people in debt from poor practice, and we continue to see widespread problems with the behaviour of bailiffs and bailiff firms.”