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Last Updated: Monday, 5 March 2007, 05:29 GMT
Law change 'puts debtors at risk'
Bailiff outside a property
The bill aims to simplify the law on bailiffs
New laws will put debtors in England and Wales at greater risk from unscrupulous bailiffs, a consumer advice charity is warning.

The Citizens Advice service says all bailiffs could be granted powers to break into people's homes.

The charity says changes in the law will lead to abuse of the system on an "unprecedented" scale.

The government says they will simplify the laws governing bailiffs, and will help protect vulnerable people.

The changes are part of the Tribunals, Courts and Enforcement Bill, which is receiving its second reading in the House of Commons.

Currently, only certain enforcement officers, such as those dealing with magistrates' court fines, have the right to force entry into people's homes.

But the Citizens Advice service says the bill will allow bailiffs to do so over debts such as those on credit cards.

The charity wants the bill to say forced entry should be a last resort which should not be used if the debtor is a vulnerable person.

It also wants it that the power should only be executed where non-payment of a bill is the result of wilful or culpable neglect.

The charity is pressing for independent regulation of bailiffs to be included in the legislation.

Intimidation, harassment and excessive fee-charging by bailiffs are already commonplace, it says.

'Abusive and aggressive'

Analysis by the charity of 500 cases showed that almost two-thirds of bailiffs were guilty of harassment or intimidation, while 40% misled people about their powers of entry, it said.

Almost half levied unfair fees and a quarter threatened the debtor with imprisonment.

Chief executive David Harker said: "Our evidence over many years shows that bailiffs have an appalling track record of abusing their existing powers against vulnerable people.

"They are often abusive and aggressive and use threats of violence and prison to pressurise people into paying lump sums they cannot afford.

"This bill should have been the perfect opportunity to modernise the law and end abuse once and for all.

"Instead it gives bailiffs greater powers without any proper regulation - a recipe for abuse on an unprecedented scale."

But the government says the bill will simplify the laws governing bailiffs, and will help protect vulnerable people by creating a framework for regulation.

It says it will be able to introduce a certification scheme for enforcement agents, which will cover issues like proper training, criminal records checks and references.




SEE ALSO
Ministers warned over bailiff law
13 Feb 07 |  UK Politics
Lords urged to curb bailiff power
29 Nov 06 |  UK Politics
Tribunals, Courts and Enforcement Bill
24 Nov 06 |  BBC Parliament
At debt's door
26 Sep 06 |  Magazine
On the doorstep
03 Nov 05 |  Magazine

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