The Ministry of Justice is amending legislation to stop bailiffs visiting debtors’ homes during the Covid-19 pandemic.
The latest government measure to support consumers impacted by coronavirus should clarify what was a grey area in enforcement; bailiffs will be barred from visiting people’s homes during this emergency period.
The Ministry of Justice (MoJ) is amending legislation to prevent bailiffs taking goods from inside people’s homes, as well as banning them from taking cars, vans, bikes and any other vehicles debtors have parked just outside their home.
Changes are being made to the Taking Control of Goods Regulations 2013, which determine the powers enforcement agents can wield to visit homes and recover assets to repay debts.
The amendments also mean that where an enforcement notice has been served, and there’s less than one month before a time limit expires and debtors’ goods can be taken, this time limit will be extended by 12 months.
While the move was welcomed across the debt advice sector, the Civil Enforcement Association, an enforcement trade body, had already announced that its members would suspend enforcement action during the pandemic.
Moves to protect debtors follow public calls from the three major debt advice charities, and internal calls from other government departments, to put a temporary freeze on enforcement action during the lockdown when people are experiencing income shocks.
One of those charities, The Money Advice Trust, revealed that an MoJ memorandum stated the new policy “has had to be developed at fast pace to respond to the public health risk of enforcement activity at residential premises and on public highways”.
The document, the MAT added, expresses ministers’ concerns “that without clarity from the government … enforcement agents may come under pressure from their employing firms and from creditors, who may be facing financial pressures themselves, to undertake enforcement visits which could endanger the health of both enforcement agents and debtors.”
Dame Gillian Guy, chief executive of Citizens Advice, said: “Millions of people are worried about the consequences of falling behind on their council tax bill. This is a welcome move from the government that will offer those people some security. The government needs to consider further measures. Stopping people from becoming liable for the whole year’s bill after one missed payment is an immediate priority."
Joanna Elson, chief executive of the Money Advice Trust, the charity that runs National Debtline, said the government’s concern over this shows why "independent bailiff regulation is badly needed".
She added: "We now need to see further action for people who are struggling with council tax bills, including three-month payment holidays.”
Phil Andrew, chief executive of StepChange Debt Charity, said: “This emergency legislation is welcome, and reinforces our view that if the debt enforcement system can’t be fully relied upon to hold off inappropriate action during the emergency period without legislation, then it can’t be relied on to operate to high standards of practice without a formal regulatory system in the long term either. That’s why statutory regulation of the bailiff sector is a vital next step."
But Russell Hamblin-Boone, chief executive of CIVEA, said: "The government’s temporary regulations ensure all enforcement firms are required to follow the same suspension of enforcement visits that CIVEA members have voluntarily implemented.
"We would expect those firms to follow this responsible example when our members begin to resume debt recovery operations. Enforcement agents do not qualify as key workers, and many have redeployed as volunteers with the NHS with the support of their employers."
He added: "We are pleased that the Ministry of Justice was able to respond to our requests for extensions to agents’ certificates and expiring courts orders. When the lockdown is lifted, enforcement firms will work with local authorities to show forbearance and flexibility in the months ahead and will have policies in place to ensure this."