A Justice Minister has revealed that bailiffs will face tough new regulations to prevent them taking advantage of vulnerable individuals and ensure that the public is treated in a professional manner.
The new rules have been introduce as part of a series of measures to clamp down on rogue debt collectors and ensure that individuals are not subjected to force or intimidation.
Jonathan Djanogly said that the introduction would help to regulate the industry, as well as help cash-strapped individuals feel safer when dealing with bailiffs.
The new standards could see the use of force to remove goods strictly outlawed, except under tightly controlled circumstances, with bailiffs made to comply with guidelines which set out exactly where, when and how reasonable levels of force can be used to gain access.
Bailiffs will also find themselves subjected to a long list of other new guidelines, including restrictions on verbal conduct as well as physical. Bailiffs will be banned from using anything which could be described as threatening language and must not behave in a manner perceived to be intimidating. They cannot discuss a debt with anyone but the individual to protect their privacy and if there is only a minor present in the property, they must immediately leave the premises. Unlawful force to gain entry to both domestic and business properties is specifically forbidden.
Individuals fearing a call early in the morning or in the depths of the night can also breathe easier, as bailiffs will now be given a time frame during which they may visit, with no contact to be made outside those hours. New criteria about what goods can be seized will also be released, with some listed as exempt from a bailiff’s powers.
The new regime will be legally binding and any individual or firm found to be in breach of the guidelines will find themselves in seriously hot water. The current rules around bailiff behaviour is contradictory, with some laws dating back to medieval times. The code of conduct is also voluntary, with few consequences for those who take the law into their own hands.
Mr Djanogly said that there had been too many cases of bailiffs taking what could be described as ‘intrusive, expensive and stressful’ action and said that the public’s perception of the industry was tainted, despite the fact that most acted in a professional manner.
He added that in January, the first steps were taken towards introducing national standards and the latest measures were the next part of an extensive overhaul, which would become law, rather than just a voluntary code of ethics.
The Justice Minister added that the new legislation aimed to ‘restore balance’ to a system unfairly tilted at present and said that it should ‘strengthen protection’ for those individuals who were vulnerable. However, he warned it would not allow individuals to escape their fiscal responsibilities and would help creditors and their representatives to be able to collect what they were owed, in a manner which was ‘fair and regulated by law.’
However, with the introduction of new rules for bailiffs, many groups questioned whether the legislation went far enough, with some experts suggesting that too many creditors opted for bailiffs too early, often for ‘trivial’ sums of money.
The chief executive of the Citizens Advice Bureau, Gillian Guy, warned that the bill still ‘fell short’ of providing adequate protection and called for a new regulatory body to monitor the industry. She also pointed to the huge hike in fees that many cash-strapped families are forced to hand over to bailiffs and urged government to give ‘squeezed households more protection.’