William Eichler 25 August 2020

Debt charity calls for ‘long overdue’ bailiff reform

A debt charity has warned that the Government’s public health guidance for bailiffs leaves concerns about the impact of debt collection on households ‘unaddressed’.

On Friday evening the Ministry of Justice published public health guidance for enforcement agents to follow as the Government’s five-month emergency ban on visits comes to an end.

The move follows concerns raised by debt advice charities over the resumption of bailiff visits on public health and financial hardship grounds.

Jane Tully, director of external affairs at the Money Advice Trust, the charity that runs National Debtline and Business Debtline, said she was ‘relieved’ that the Government had put in place public health guidance for bailiffs.

However, she warned that guidance ‘only addresses some of the concerns that have been raised over the resumption of bailiff visits.’

‘As households continue to struggle with the impact of Covid-19, the fact bailiffs can now resume visits risks making bad situations worse,’ she said.

‘The Government should urgently introduce changes to the way council tax debts are collected, in particular, to reduce the use of bailiffs in the first place – and finally bring forward plans for an independent regulator for bailiffs and bailiff firms.

‘Bailiff reform is long overdue, and the outbreak of Covid-19 has brought the need for independent regulation of the bailiff industry into sharp focus. Without fundamental reform – and an independent regulator to make sure that guidance of the kind published on Friday is actually followed – households will remain at risk.’

Responding to the new guidance, Russell Hamblin-Boone, chief executive officer of the Civil Enforcement Association (CIVEA), commented: ‘At the end of August, the vast majority of visits taking place will be to enforce fines, traffic offences and other penalties that have been outstanding since before the coronavirus lockdown came into effect.

‘We are aware that some people will be in financial difficulty and there will not be a sudden rush of enforcement visits, but it is only fair that those with outstanding debts have the opportunity to pay and ensure councils get the funds owed to them at a time when it is needed most.

‘Our data suggests that councils are concerned about funding shortfalls and the majority have agreed how and when enforcement visits can resume.’

‘Safety remains the number one priority across the industry,’ he added.

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