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Bailiffs' behaviour to be controlled by new laws
Published at 28 January 2013, 09:49 GMT
Bailiffs will be banned from entering homes at night, or properties where only children are present, and will be stopped from using any physical contact when dealing with people who owe money.

They will also no longer have free rein to fix their own fees, because set fee scales will be brought in. Bailiff organisations said the changes were badly needed.

Bad name
The law relating to enforcement by the seizure and sale of goods is complex, unclear and confusing. There are also different types of bailiffs and enforcement officers, depending on the type of debt being recovered. This confusion can result in bailiffs and enforcement officers misrepresenting their legal authority. There is anecdotal evidence of some bailiffs using aggression and excessive force, and the costs regime is complex. Each enforcement power has a different cost structure and the charging process is prone to abuse. In addition, regulation is fragmented with some elements of the industry being tightly regulated, whilst others are only subject to informal regulation through trade associations.

There are currently no set training standards. Reform had been in discussion for years, finally it is going to happen. Martin Leyshon, chairman of the High Court Enforcement Officers Association, said: "We believe that the system is very archaic in England and Wales. As an association we fully support the government's attempts to sort out the problem of aggressive bailiffs."

The Civil Enforcement Association called it a "small step forward". "The industry has been pressing for reform for nearly 30 years and we feel these are long overdue. We look forward to their early introduction," it said.

Justice minister Helen Grant said a small minority of bailiffs had been able to give the industry a bad name. She also said the fees charged were sometimes "extortionate".

Following a Ministry of Justice consultation last year, the government will legislate next year to introduce new measures to combat the problem. Mandatory training and a new certification process for bailiffs will be introduced.

Rent arrears
There will be a set of simple rules detailing when a bailiff can enter a property, what they can take and a fee structure to end excessive and multiple charges.

Landlords will be banned from using bailiffs to seize property for rent arrears, without going to court. Mrs Grant said: "Bailiffs will not be able to use force against the person and they will not be able to enter any homes with just children there.

"There are some very good bailiffs around, don't get me wrong - but it is being reported to us from MPs and other organisations that there is bad practice, and we need to deal with it."

Companies, councils and courts all use bailiffs to collect money owed to them. Sian Meredith, a victim of bad behaviour from bailiffs and a campaigner, said the legislation was long overdue and "very badly needed".

Recounting her own experience, she said: "I purchased a property and it was the debt of the previous owner who had left two years previously. It was a very old debt.

"They were threatening to clamp and remove vehicles and I was powerless to stop them. It took the involvement of my member of Parliament to stop them. "They intimidate and they bully, and they overcharge. Overcharging is one of the main issues.

"I think the government is only really scratching the surface of this. I mean there's no mention of an independent regulator in what's being proposed... or a proper complaints procedure.

"I can't see a lot changing, other than the fact that the government is going to enforce the charging structures, which is the main good news about this."
 
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