Bid for better bailiffs as pandemic debts rise

1 month ago 83

By Kevin Peachey
Personal finance correspondent, BBC News

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A plan has been brokered to cut down on aggressive debt collection by bailiffs as warnings of a post-pandemic surge in debt problems intensify.

The agreement should see a new independent new body - the Enforcement Conduct Authority (ECA) - set up to ensure unfair treatment is stamped out.

It is also designed to allow vulnerable people to reset their finances.

Bailiffs are used to pursue unpaid bills such as council tax or parking fines, and to enforce evictions.

Much of their work was paused during the Covid crisis in an attempt to help reduce the pandemic's infection rate.

Charities have expressed their concerns that the economic fall-out from the coronavirus crisis could be made worse for some people being pursued by bailiffs.

The Centre for Social Justice think tank brought together bailiff firms and advice charities to create a plan to tackle rising complaints about bailiff enforcement.

"What looms ominously on the horizon is no less than a tidal wave of debt," the think tank said.

"What this means in practice is that, in the months and indeed years ahead, tens of thousands more people are expected to receive a call or knock at the door from a bailiff."

New powers

The new ECA, which will launch later in the year, plans to replace self-regulation of the bailiff industry with:

Clear rules for bailiffs and sanctions imposed for those who break themA two-stage complaints service, with the ECA ultimately acting as an independent adjudicatorProtocols to allow vulnerable people fair and affordable repayment plans

It will be funded by the bailiff industry, and will not be entirely compulsory.

The charities have called for statutory regulation, but have described the new body as a "pragmatic collaboration".

Joanna Elson, chief executive of the Money Advice Trust, which runs the National Debtline, said: "The focus now must be on supporting the body to deliver its clear mandate to raise standards in enforcement and better protect people in debt.

"This includes government - who must now step up by ensuring the ECA has the powers it needs to be as effective as possible."

Russell Hamblin-Boone, chief executive of the Civil Enforcement Association, which represents bailiffs, said: "We have a duty to balance the need to recover debts owed to the government with the need to identify and support people affected financially by the pandemic.

"The Covid crisis has presented new challenges and the ECA will help us to drive up standards, drive out bad practice and drive forward the evolution of modern enforcement."

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