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Bailiffs denied new entry rights

By Bob Howard
BBC Radio 4's Money Box

Notes and coins
The decision was based partly on "current economic circumstances"

Bailiffs will not be allowed to force entry into people's homes on a first visit to collect debts, the government has announced.

The proposal had been considered as part of the Tribunals, Courts and Enforcement Act.

But the Ministry of Justice said such a change will not now be considered until the industry is regulated in 2012.

Currently most bailiffs can only force entry if they have been previously invited into the house by the debtor.

Speaking on BBC Radio 4's Money Box, Justice Minister Bridget Prentice said the decision was based partly on current economic circumstances.

"Secretary of State Jack Straw asked me last year to have a complete reassessment of the provisions of the act given the current economic climate. We don't think they are appropriate at the moment."

The minister also felt that allowing stronger entry powers was inadvisable in the absence of the bailiff industry being properly regulated.

"The idea of someone entering your house to seize your goods is a very serious one and so it really is important that we get everything set up with a proper regulatory authority," she said.

Long campaign

Citizens Advice and other organisations which deal with debt have campaigned for changes in the way bailiffs operate for years.

It has welcomed the postponement of increased powers to force entry.

However Citizens Advice social policy officer Peter Tutton would like the government to act more quickly than 2012 on the issue of regulation.

"Bearing in mind the enforcement white paper was in 2003, we're talking nine years to bring to bring a relatively small sector into regulation," he said.

Current legislation seems to be biased in favour of the debtor
Penny, Wales

"We'd really like the government to do this as quickly as possible."

Regulation is made potentially difficult because of the wide variety of different bailiffs authorised in different ways and pursuing different sorts of debts.

Debt charities say many of the complaints they receive are against bailiffs collecting unpaid parking fines and Council Tax.

Claire Sandbrook is chair of the High Court Enforcement Officers' Association.

It represents companies which pursue debts over £600 where a High Court writ for collection has been issued.

Although Ms Sandbrook was disappointed by the government's delay in extending powers of entry, she thought it was the right decision.

"It's sad that the government couldn't implement what it wanted to do but it's a wise decision at the moment," she said.

"You can only really give rights of entry into private homes when you have a properly regulated profession."

BBC Radio 4's Money Box was broadcast on Saturday 21 March 2009 at 1204 GMT.

The programme will be repeated on Sunday 22 March 2009 at 2102 GMT.

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