New laws came into force in England and Wales on 6 April 2014 in an attempt to raise the standards of practices used by bailiffs.
The changes under the Tribunals, Courts and Enforcement Act 2007 are designed to put an end to the worst activities such as entering homes at night and using aggressive or threatening behaviour.
Bailiffs play an important role in the debt recovery process; it is estimated that bailiffs are responsible for collecting around four million debts each year.
The introduction of reforms should bring clarity to the rules and greater accountability for those operating in the industry.
Complex Laws and Bad Practice in the Bailiff Industry
In the past, the rules on the seizure of goods for the enforcement of debts suffered from a serious lack of clarity. The complexity of the laws surrounding enforcement of debts has been further exacerbated by the absence of training requirements and a lack of standards.
Changes to the industry began in 2012 with updates to The National Standards for Enforcement Agents but this was only a voluntary code. The implementation of changes under Part 3 of the Tribunals, Courts & Enforcement Act 2007 adds legislative weight to the rules.
What will the Legal Changes Mean in Practice?
Alterations to the National Standards for Enforcement Agents aimed to tackle intimidating and threatening behaviour, prevent bailiffs from misrepresenting their powers, and reinforce rules about how firms should resolve complaints about rogue agents.
The new legislation is much more substantial; it introduces compulsory training and certification for bailiffs and will:
- Stop bailiffs entering homes when only children are present.
- Ban bailiffs from visiting debtors at night – they will only be allowed to enter between 6am and 9pm.
- Ban landlords from using bailiffs to seize property for residential rent arrears without going to court.
- Prevent bailiffs from taking household items, such as a cooker, microwave, refrigerator or washing machine, because they are deemed to be reasonably required to satisfy the basic domestic needs of the debtor.
- Ensure a notice period of seven days is given to the debtor before bailiffs take control of the debtor’s goods.
- Ban bailiffs from selling goods removed from a debtor, unless seven days have passed from the date the goods were removed.
- Make bailiffs responsible for proving to a court that there are, or likely to be, goods of the debtor on the premises before being granted the power to use reasonable force to gain entry. Before a warrant is granted, bailiffs must give the court information on the likely means of entry, the amount of force required and how the premises will be left in a secure state afterwards.
Bailiffs serve an important purpose so it is vital that people in debt are protected from rogue bailiffs and that creditors have genuine confidence in the debt collection process carried out on their behalf. Individuals or businesses confronting debts issues as creditors or debtors should seek professional advice at an early stage to achieve the best outcome.
For specialist advice contact Peter Gourri today by email PGourri@rollingsons.co.uk or telephone 0207 611 4848.