BBC Home > BBC News > Business

Bailiffs to get more regulation

18 March 08 19:58 GMT

Plans designed to protect householders from unscrupulous bailiffs have been announced by the Ministry of Justice.

Bailiffs in England and Wales are to be subject to an independent regulator.

"People have a right to recover their debts, but no-one should have the right to threaten, bully or intimidate," Justice Minister Maria Eagle said.

She said the new rules would raise the level of bailiffs' professionalism. They will receive more training and will need to pass qualifications.

Common standards

The plans were announced in the government's response to a consultation paper, entitled Regulation of Enforcement Agents.

In its response, the Ministry of Justice says it will ensure a common set of standards across the debt enforcement industry, and will "look in detail" at instituting a complaints procedure.

Citizens' Advice, which offers free advice to people on a range of issues including debt and civil rights, said bad behaviour on the part of bailiffs trying to recover debts was all too common.

"We regularly see cases of bailiffs misrepresenting their powers, acting in an abusive or aggressive manner, pressurising people into paying lump sums they cannot afford, and imposing excessive fees that can drive already vulnerable people deeper into poverty and debt," a Citizens' Advice spokeswoman told BBC News.

Case studies

She gave some examples of such cases which Citizens' Advice had dealt with.

"Bailiffs visited a woman with restricted mobility who had penalty charge notice and council tax debts. The woman let the Bailiffs into her kitchen where they pushed her arm behind her back and pushed her against the kitchen wall, knocking over a hot kettle and breaking her arm", one case study said.

Another case study submitted by Citizens Advice read as follows:

"Bailiffs forced their way in to a London woman’s flat to recover unpaid parking fines imposed six months after she had sold the car concerned. She had confirmation of the change of ownership from DVLA. The bailiffs threatened to call the police and accused her of assaulting them."

'Mindless few'

The Enforcement Services Association, which represents bailiffs, says such incidents are the actions of a "mindless few".

The ESA already provides a code of conduct for its members, but it does not oppose a new regulatory framework for the industry.

"The Association has been a strong supporter of the government’s enforcement review and has given clear and consistent support to the proposals for a regulatory/licensing regime

"The entire enforcement profession should not be condemned by the actions of a minority. The Association and its membership continues to work for higher standards within the industry," the ESA said.

Related BBC sites