The government will shield people in debt from intimidation by making body cameras a requirement for bailiffs.
But experts say the introduction of cameras in England and Wales – which Westminster has given no time scale for – will “do nothing to protect people”.
In the announcement, the government said there were concerns that some bailiffs used tactics that put both themselves and vulnerable consumers at risk.
In what they called “decisive” action, ministers hope body cameras on bailiffs will ensure that debt is collected in a fair and safe manner, promising to hold those who flouted the rules to account.
No one should be faced with aggressive tactics when facing crippling debt.
We’re going to make body-worn cameras compulsory for private bailiffs to:
* protect those in debt
* act as a deterrent for bad practice
* ensure complaints can be investigated properly
— Ministry of Justice (@MoJGovUK) July 22, 2019
Earlier this year the Taking Control campaign, launched in 2017 by a group of 11 organisations including Citizens Advice, the Money & Mental Health Policy Institute and The Children’s Society, called for an independent regulator to be set up.
They wanted such a body to curb the stress and worsened money troubles that can be caused by aggressive bailiff conduct – and say the latest government announcement won’t do much to achieve that.
Citizens Advice, who reported a 24 per cent rise in bailiff problems since 2014, said more than one in three people visited by bailiffs in in the past two years saw a bailiff break the rules.
Justice minister Paul Maynard said: “The use of intimidation and aggression by some bailiffs is utterly unacceptable, and it is right we do all we can to tackle such behaviour.
“Whilst most bailiffs act above board, body-worn cameras will provide greater security for all involved – not least consumers who are often vulnerable.
The Big Issue magazine is a social enterprise, a business that reinvests its profits in helping others who are homeless, at risk of homelessness, or whose lives are blighted by poverty.
“We are looking carefully at other measures to improve the system and will not hesitate to take action where necessary.”
The government has already promised a Breathing Space scheme, to be be introduced in 2021, which will see those who find themselves in mental health crisis given 60 days where they will be safe from enforcement action from creditors. Interest payments will be frozen to help them sort out their financial situation.
National Debtline said 83 per cent of people who had debts collected by bailiffs said the experience was detrimental to their wellbeing.
Gillian Guy, chief executive of Citizens Advice, said: “Bailiff body cameras will do nothing to protect people while there is no industry regulator to oversee how they are used.
While today's announcement on mandatory body cameras for #bailiffs is a positive step, there is still much more that needs to be done to protect people in #debt from harmful & aggressive collections activity. 1/2
— Money and Mental Health (@mmhpi) July 22, 2019
“While it’s encouraging the government has committed to further action, its next step must be the creation of an independent regulator to crack down on rule-breaking bailiffs.
“We help one person every three minutes with a bailiff problem. We hope the government will take full consideration of our recommendations in its upcoming response to its call for evidence.”
A government report including evidence of intimidating bailiff behaviour, options for independent regulation and proposals for an improved complaints system is expected this autumn.