Regulator should oversee bailiff industry, says Justice Committee

By agency reporter
April 12, 2019

The Government should introduce new regulation for the bailiff industry to ensure that people in debt are treated fairly, says the Justice Committee in its report Bailiffs: Enforcement of debt.

Following an inquiry into concerns over complaints about bailiffs, also known as enforcement agents, the report expresses surprise at their under-regulation compared to other sectors. 

It describes the existing system of individual certification of enforcement agents by the courts as a rubber-stamping exercise. A new regulator should be able to stop unfit enforcement agents or companies from practising and should also work to change culture and raise standards. The new regulator, the report says, should regularly review enforcement fees which debtors pay, to make sure they are proportionate. 

The Committee concludes that the current complaints system is fragmented and hard to navigate, especially for vulnerable people. It recommends an independent complaints body, separate from the regulator, to which all complaints about enforcement agents can be escalated. The Ministry of Justice should take account of the important role of the existing Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman and the much-delayed introduction of the proposed Public Service Ombudsman.

MPs recommend making body-worn cameras mandatory for all enforcement agents visiting homes and businesses. This would protect both the agent and debtor and help make it easier to investigate complaints.

Chair of the Justice Committee, Bob Neill MP, said: "We held our inquiry to investigate the complaints about bailiffs recorded by debt advice charities and our report sits alongside the call for evidence conducted by the MoJ.

"While there are strong differences of opinion on the effectiveness of 2014 reforms to the enforcement industry, there is consensus that there is room for improvement in the way that complaints are handled. The system is confusing, particularly for the most vulnerable people in society. Complaints are important and must be investigated properly.

"We were surprised that no regulator is already in place. We're calling on the Government to consult on whether new powers should sit with an existing body or a new one, and how it should be funded. Debt enforcement can have a real impact on people's lives so it is vital to ensure that the processes in place are fair and proportionate to all parties concerned."

Responding to the report, Gillian Guy, Chief Executive of Citizens Advice, said: “It’s excellent to see MPs from across all parties call for a regulator to crack down on the bailiff industry. They’ve also rightly called for a complaints process to be established so problems are dealt with independently of the bailiff industry and outside the court system.

“Bailiffs regularly break the rules, as our evidence has proved. In the past year we’ve seen a 16 per cent increase in bailiff-related issues. All eyes will now be on the Ministry of Justice, which must introduce these reforms as a matter of urgency.”

* Read the report Bailiffs: Enforcement of debt here

* Citizens Advice https://www.citizensadvice.org.uk/

* Justice Select Committee https://www.parliament.uk/business/committees/committees-a-z/commons-select/justice-committee/

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