Bailiffs should be made to wear body cameras so that vulnerable families are protected from abuse, MPs have said, after an inquiry into debt collectors found that “aggressive behaviour” had persisted despite legal reforms.
The justice committee’s inquiry found that the certification of debt recovery agencies by the courts was a “rubber stamping exercise” and bailiffs were not being held accountable to their actions.
“People in vulnerable situations clearly need better protection from aggressive bailiffs whose unscrupulous behaviour far too often causes significant stress and anxiety,” said MP Richard Burgon, Labour’s shadow justice secretary.
The inquiry also found that bailiffs were being used more than ever before, with 2.2 million people in the UK being visited by a bailiff in the last two years according to Citizen’s Advice.
Bailiff’s broke the rules and regulations in nearly 40 per cent of those cases, with 850,000 people reporting an incident.
“Bailiffs regularly break the rules, as our evidence has proved,” Gillian Guy, the chief executive of Citizens Advice, said. “In the past year, we’ve seen a 16% 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.”
People in vulnerable situations clearly need better protection from aggressive bailiffs whose unscrupulous behaviour far too often causes significant stress and anxiety.
Richard Burgon MP, shadow justice secretary
The inquiry heard how regulations put in place to ensure affordable payback schemes and protection from intimidation were not being followed.
A quarter of people with outstanding debt who had been visited by bailiffs had attempted to arrange repayment over the phone beforehand.
In many of these cases, the debt collection company had declined taking payment over the phone and insisted on visiting the home, meaning the debt would increase by hundreds of pounds.
“Bailiffs will not accept affordable repayment offers, seize goods inappropriately and they fail to take vulnerable circumstances into account,” Joanna Elson, of the Money Advice Trust, explained to the committee.
Vulnerability And Changes
The system is confusing, particularly for the most vulnerable people in society.
Bob Neil, MP, justice select committee chair
Some bailiffs were reported for threatening to break into peoples homes and repossessing their belongings.
This and other behaviour, MPs said, was surprising and could only be changed with an overhaul of the current system – including the introduction of an independent complaint and regulation body, the use of body cameras by all debt collectors and a crackdown on “rogue bailiffs”.
“We are surprised that bailiffs are apparently so under-regulated compared with other sectors, especially given that they deal with some of the most vulnerable people in society,” the committee wrote in the conclusion. “It does not make sense for enforcement to be regulated only through the rubber-stamping of individuals through a court certification process.”
“The system is confusing, particularly for the most vulnerable people in society. Complaints are important and must be investigated properly,” said Bob Neil, chair of the justice select committee.