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Justice Committee adds voice to bailiff regulator calls

The government should act quickly to establish a regulator for bailiffs operating in the UK, the Justice Committee of MPs has said in a report.

The committee conducted an inquiry into concerns about complaints about bailiffs, with vocal campaigning by the Taking Control Group, which includes charities such as Citizens Advice.

 

The report describes the existing system of individual certification of enforcement agents by the courts as “a rubber-stamping exercise”.

 

A new regulator should be able to stop unfit enforcement agents or companies from practising and should also work to change culture and raise standards. The new regulator, the report says, should regularly review enforcement fees which debtors pay, to make sure they are proportionate.

 

The committee concluded that the current complaints system is “fragmented and hard to navigate”, especially for vulnerable people. It called for an independent complaints body, separate to the regulator, to be set up, to which all complaints about enforcement agents can be escalated.

 

MPs recommend making body-worn cameras mandatory for all enforcement agents visiting homes and businesses in order to protect both the agent and customer.

 

Chair of the Justice Committee, Bob Neill MP, said: "We held our inquiry to investigate the complaints about bailiffs recorded by debt advice charities and our report sits alongside the call for evidence conducted by the MoJ.

 

“While there are strong differences of opinion on the effectiveness of 2014 reforms to the enforcement industry, there is consensus that there is room for improvement in the way that complaints are handled. The system is confusing, particularly for the most vulnerable people in society. Complaints are important and must be investigated properly.

 

“We were surprised that no regulator is already in place. We’re calling on the government to consult on whether new powers should sit with an existing body or a new one, and how it should be funded.”

 

CIVEA, the body that represents bailiffs in the UK, welcomed the committee’s report and its chief executive, Russell Hamblin-Boone, said it would respond in the next month with plans for the establishment of a regulator.

 

He said: “The Justice Committee identified that there is conflicting evidence that enforcement agents are not working to highly prescriptive regulations. However, the report is a helpful contribution to the Ministry of Justice call for evidence.

 

“Collecting public debt is an important responsibility and we are already making some of the changes that the Committee has identified. From June 1, all complaints will be channelled through the Local Government Ombudsman, and later this year a new code of practice will mandate the use of body-worn cameras. Next month we will be sharing plans with the ministry for a regulatory body to oversee our industry.”

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