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Ministry of Justice issues call for evidence over bailiff reforms

The Ministry of Justice has issued a call for evidence asking for people’s experiences of the 2014 reforms which regulate how enforcement agents operate.

Earlier this month, charities Citizens Advice and StepChange Debt Charity published research calling for the government to step in and regulate the industry to prevent more people “suffering at the hands of debt collectors”.

 

Their figures show that a third (850,000) of the 2.2 million people contacted by a bailiff in the last two years experienced them “pushing the limits of the law” – such as by removing goods needed for work.

 

Citizens Advice found that of those who had a negative experience with a bailiff:

  • Seven in 10 reported increased stress and anxiety
  • Half experienced knock-on effects on their finances, including further debt due to enforcement fees

The charities suggest the findings show that government reforms introduced in 2014 to protect people from unfair practices are not working. Since then, Citizens Advice has reported a 24 percent rise in bailiff problems, and it remains one of the most common debt issues it helps people with.

 

Russell Hamblin-Boone, chief executive of the Civil Enforcement Association, which represents bailiffs, was critical of the report, which is based on the views of 277 people who have had contact with bailiffs in the past two years.

 

He said: “It is worrying that debt advisers consider it acceptable to exaggerate figures when they cannot get robust data. It is of great concern that Citizens Advice fails to make a distinction between laws that are broken and laws that people simply don’t like. For example, in the report it is assumed that a threat to force entry to a property or to remove goods required for work purposes is breaking the regulations. That is simply incorrect and depends on the circumstances. It is shocking that agents are being accused of acting illegally based on such flimsy evidence.

 

The government’s call for evidence takes the form of an 11-page survey which feeds into its review of the 2014 reforms.

 

Joanna Elson OBE, chief executive of the Money Advice Trust, said: “We continue to see significant problems with the behaviour of some bailiffs and bailiff firms.

 

“This new call for evidence, with its broad scope, is a welcome opportunity to secure the fundamental reform that is needed to deal with the systemic issues that many of the people we help are experiencing with bailiff action.

 

“We look forward to working with government and advice sector partners as we press for key changes including independent regulation, a single complaints mechanism and a revised fee structure that incentivises good practice.”

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