Bailiffs will be forced to wear body cameras to protect vulnerable people struggling with debt, the Government has announced.
The move is aimed at safeguarding households from “rogue” debt collectors who deploy threatening behaviour on their visits to squeeze cash out of families.
Private debt collectors and enforcement agents, most commonly known as bailiffs, visit homes to collect a range of debts including unpaid fines and tax bills.
While there are rules regulating their behaviour – including when they can and cannot enter properties – they are permitted to force their way into a home as a last resort to collect certain types of debt, and can seize and sell off items such as cars and televisions.
Protection from ‘rogue bailiffs’
According to the Government, while most act professionally and already voluntarily wear body cameras, a minority use intimidating and aggressive behaviour to prey on people at risk.
The Ministry of Justice has said that wearing a body camera will now become a legal requirement in England and Wales to make sure all enforcement agents are held accountable and to make it easier for complaints to be investigated.
The courts will also be given a broader range of sanctioning powers – such as levying fines and ordering training – to punish high court enforcement agents who behave inappropriately whilst enforcing ccjs and suchlike.
Currently, the only sanction available to the courts is to remove a high court enforcement officer’s authorisation, meaning lower level poor behaviour can escape unpunished.
Dominic Raab, the Deputy Prime Minister and Justice Secretary, said: “We’re determined to protect vulnerable households which includes ensuring they’re not harassed by rogue bailiffs.
“While the majority of bailiffs act above board, body-worn cameras will make sure those who abuse their powers can be held to account.”
There has been instances of rogue debt collection agencies also over the years.
Instances of Bailiff poor practice
A report from Citizens Advice in 2018 found that of 2.2 million people who reported being contacted by bailiffs over two years, more than a third (850,000 people) experienced bailiffs breaking the rules.
Thirty-seven per cent of people contacted by bailiffs experienced intimidation of some kind, despite the requirement for agents to conduct their duties in “a professional, calm and dignified manner”.
The report highlighted other areas of poor practice, including 24 per cent of people saying bailiffs refused to accept affordable payment offers.
It also reported of agents lying about their rights of entry, with 17 per cent of people experiencing a threat to break in, even though the debts in question did not give the bailiffs the power to do this.
Another common complaint was bailiffs taking exempt items and goods, with one in 10 people contacted by bailiffs having equipment required for their work seized.
The polling also found that one in five people contacted by bailiffs had seen them acting unsympathetically to vulnerable people with illnesses and disabilities.
Eighty-four per cent of those who had a negative experience with bailiffs felt this had a lasting effect, with seven in 10 reporting increased stress and anxiety.
Half of people also experienced a knock-on effect on their finances.
Raising Bailiff standards
To tackle the abuses, the Government said it would be providing its backing to the Enforcement Conduct Board, a new independent oversight body aimed at holding the debt enforcement sector to account.
It will look at raising standards and establishing guidelines for best practice.
The Ministry of Justice will also launch a review of the fees bailiffs can recover to make sure they are set at the right level and to look at whether more can be done to settle debts without a visit to a person’s home.
The department has promised to legislate for the package of measures when parliamentary time allows following a short consultation on the use of body cameras and sanctions.