Rule-breaking bailiffs need to be held to account say debt charities

Experts say bailiffs' behaviour is part of a wider problem that is leaving millions of families in arrears on household bills

Debt charities are demanding an independent regulator be set up to protect people from harmful behaviour by bailiffs, causing stress and exasperating existing money problems.

According to research commissioned for the campaign, more than eight in 10 people in England and Wales think bailiffs should be subject to independent regulation – the equivalent of 39 million people.

Nearly nine in 10 (86 per cent) also want an independent system for complaints about bailiffs.

The fresh calls are part of 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.

Rule breaking

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.

Phil Andrew, chief executive of debt charity StepChange, said only 15 per cent of their clients who felt they had been treated badly by bailiffs made a complaint, and that bailiff firms only uphold around one in 10 complaints.

He added: “That’s shocking but unsurprising, as the industry’s complaints mechanism is fragmented, opaque and can’t be trusted. Industry protectionism and self-interest are causing detriment and harm to some people who have legitimate cause for complaint about bailiffs.

“Only formal regulation can solve the problems in the bailiff sector. Complaints provide a case in point, where the complaints mechanism involves the bailiff industry’s own trade body acting as adjudicator.”

UK households have an estimated £19bn in arrears on bills like council tax and utilities – a wider problem made worse by bailiffs’ conduct, Citizens Advice said.

The campaign’s figures are being submitted to the Ministry of Justice’s call for evidence of the need for bailiff reform.

In 2016-17, bailiffs collected debts from people in England and Wales 2.3 million times. The practice disproportionately affects people with disabilities or health problems, who accounted for 40 per cent of those visited by bailiffs.

National Debtline said 83 per cent of people who had debts collected by bailiffs said the experience was detrimental to their wellbeing.

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