The Civil Enforcement Association (CIVEA) has disputed reports that bailiffs are visiting people’s homes despite social distancing measures.
Debt charities raised concerns that bailiffs are continuing to take enforcement action on debts to local authorities, despite social distancing measures brought in by the government. They also called for local authorities to suspend bailiff activity during the coronavirus outbreak.
Newspaper reports had claimed that bailiffs were still visiting people’s homes, but the reports did not specify whether these agents were working in-house for councils or how many visits had taken place.
Social distancing was announced as a policy by the government on March 16, with vulnerable people such as pregnant women, those over 70 and those with underlying health conditions told to self-isolate for 12 weeks.
The Civil Enforcement Association (CIVEA), the body which represents civil enforcement agencies, issued a notice on March 26, confirming its members will cease enforcing public debt during the coronavirus crisis.
Citizens Advice, the Money Advice Trust and StepChange Debt Charity all said their advisers received calls last week about bailiffs.
Russell Hamblin-Boone, chief executive of CIVEA, said this “simply confirms that people are worried about their debts not that agents have visited”.
“There is no evidence whatsoever that the number of people calling helplines has any correlation to enforcement visits, which were suspended at the time.”
Bailiffs were not designated key workers during the outbreak by the government, although the Ministry of Communities and Local Government has not specifically banned door-to-door enforcement.
Credit Strategy has contacted the Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government for comment.
Under its guidance, CIVEA members are “not to enter homes and suspend enforcement where there is coronavirus”.
“Light touch” communication is to be maintained, though, including identifying vulnerable people and offering extensions to repayment plans and payment holidays.
StepChange Debt Charity said: “We note that CIVEA has said that its members are not undertaking enforcement activity now; we haven’t yet had confirmation from government that local authorities are definitely asking bailiffs to pause all activity. It’s really important that for the time being all such activity is put on hold."
Jane Tully, director of external affairs and partnerships at the Money Advice Trust, said: “If CIVEA members have now ceased bailiff visits then that’s welcome and quite right, given public health advice. This is about more than public health, however – we need a complete suspension of all enforcement activity to help people through the financial shock that Coronavirus is causing to household finances.
"We are still hearing, even this week, about enforcement notices landing through letterboxes – causing even more stress and worry for people at this extremely difficult time. The government should step in and instruct local authorities to ensure that all enforcement action, including this kind of contact from enforcement agents, is suspended for the duration of this crisis.”