New laws that come into effect this weekend will see Bailiffs banned from entering homes at night and from using physical force against debtors. The term ‘Bailiff’ is also set to be changed to ‘Enforcement Agent’.
Additional changes will also prevent enforcement agents from entering properties where only children are at home and from taking vital household essentials such as cookers, microwaves, fridges or washing machines.
Bailiffs, who collect roughly four million debts each year, will also have to be trained and certified to practise under a shake-up of laws designed to bring an end to aggressive behaviour.
Chris Grayling, justice secretary, stated: “People will still have to face up to their debts but they will no longer need to fear their home being raided at night, the threat of violence or having their vital household equipment seized.
“We are stamping out bad practice and making sure bailiffs play by the rules. Those who don’t will be banned.”
Among the changes landlords will no longer be able to use bailiffs to seize property for residential rental debts without going to court first, while the debt collectors will have to give courts information on the likely means of entry and amount of force required before a warrant is granted.
Bailiffs will also have to give seven days’ notice before taking possessions unless they have specific permission from a court.
The reforms come into effect on 6 April and are part of a wider package under changes to the Tribunals, Courts and Enforcement Act 2007.
Jo Salter, researcher at the think-tank Demos, said its research had shown “aggressive” behaviour by bailiffs played a big part in the emotional harm caused to families by debt.
“Council tax arrears is an example of one type of debt that many said resulted in bailiffs getting involved. The actions of bailiffs could often overwhelm people’s rational ability to deal with the debt itself. As a result our research showed that arrears can often be just as harmful to people as payday loans.”
The Citizens Advice chief executive, Gillian Guy, said: “We help with 1,000 bailiff problems a week. People have reported bailiffs giving debt letters to their children and threatening violence. These new rules reflect just how out of control the industry is and are a welcome step towards protecting people in debt.
“What is missing from these changes is accountability for bailiff firms. We’d like to see a licensing system that means firms are struck off if bailiffs break the rules.”
Critics have slated the new laws advising whilst they maybe appropriate for families in hardship, they will only stiffen the resolve of hardened debtors who deliberately run up debts with no intention to pay.