Some bailiffs 'still abusing powers', debt charities say

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Some bailiffs are still abusing their powers when trying to recover debts, despite changes to the law three years ago, say debt advice charities.

The laws to regulate bailiffs in England and Wales were aimed at protecting debtors from any unfair behaviour.

But a consortium of charities says these new rules have failed to rein in some rogue bailiffs.

The government will soon begin a review of the laws.

Bailiffs are typically used by creditors, on the authority of the courts, to seize property if debtors fail to pay what they owe.

The 2014 laws should have provided debtors with protection against over-aggressive bailiffs.

For instance, the current laws ban bailiffs from entering homes at night, acting without proof of identity or lawful authority, or trying to impose unauthorised fees.

But a report called Taking Control, compiled by the charities, said that some bailiffs regularly intimidated debtors, failed to accept offers of payment and also failed take account of whether a debtor was particularly vulnerable.

'Last resort'?

Joanna Elson, chief executive of the Money Advice Trust, said: "We continue to see widespread problems with the behaviour of bailiffs and bailiff firms. In its three-year review, the government now has the opportunity to deliver the fundamental bailiff reform that is needed to resolve these problems."

Citizens Advice chief executive, Gillian Guy, said: "Harsh tactics by bailiffs can cause severe distress and push people even further into debt.

"Local authorities have a key role to play in stamping out bad practices - by treating people in arrears fairly and ensuring bailiffs are only ever used as a last resort."

The charities that compiled the report included AdviceUK, the StepChange debt charity and the Children's Society.

Together they have called for the establishment of an independent regulator for bailiffs, and a single and simple way for people to complain about over-zealous bailiffs.

The use of bailiffs to enforce the recovery of debts is still widespread, with unpaid council tax being a particularly common reason.

Between 2014-15 councils in England and Wales asked bailiffs to pursue debts on 2.1 million occasions, the charities say.

BBC

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