Updated National Standards to define acceptable behaviour for bailiffs were today unveiled by Justice Minister Jonathan Djanogly.
The voluntary code has been tightened so that people are protected from rogue bailiffs who use unsound, unsafe or unfair methods, while at the same time making sure businesses and authorities can still collect debts fairly.
Additions to the National Standards tackle intimidating and threatening behaviour, prevent bailiffs from misrepresenting their powers, and reinforce rules about how firms should resolve complaints about rogue agents. Councils and other authorities will adopt the standards which will be used to set rules for any bailiffs working for them.
Mr Djanogly said:
‘Bailiffs are an important part of the justice system so the few unscrupulous bailiffs must be stopped from putting people in harm’s way or taking advantage of the vulnerable. We want to bring an end to the rogue behaviour that can make people’s lives a misery.
‘Whilst I know the majority of bailiffs are responsible, too many are not. We often hear stories, and see evidence, of people being mistreated by heavy-handed bailiffs. We are working with the bailiff industry, and other groups, to make sure that cannot happen anymore, but also that people can still collect their debts fairly.
‘What we have announced today is the first step towards tackling this issue, which will be followed shortly by proposals for a new regulatory regime.’
The updated National Standards outline the minimum standards of behaviour expected of bailiffs and bailiff firms, including:
Bailiffs must not behave in a threatening manner or use unlawful force to gain access to a home or business;
Bailiffs should avoid discussing the debt with anyone except the person owing money, and bailiffs must never behave in a way that would publicly embarrass a debtor;
Bailiffs must withdraw when only a child is present; and
Bailiffs have a duty of care towards vulnerable people, such as the elderly, people with disabilities, single parents and unemployed people and must use discretion when collecting debts from these groups.
Updating the standards is the first step in Government plans to change the way bailiffs are regulated, to make sure they operate fairly for all concerned. As he announced the standards, Mr Djanogly also outlined proposals to create a new legally-binding regulatory regime for bailiffs. They include:
New rules around the modes and times of entry to make it clear when and how an enforcement agent may enter a home or a business;
Which goods are exempt to make it clear which items an enforcement agent may not take from someone’s home or business premises; and
What fees bailiffs can charge for the range of debts that they collect for local government, courts and businesses.
The full proposals will be consulted on in Spring, with a view to the proposals becoming law as soon as possible.
Alongside the revised National Standards the information available on DirectGov has been updated to provide guidance on bailiffs for debtors and creditors. This guidance also provides information on where people can go for help if they feel they have been a victim of unacceptable behaviours by bailiff.