Bailiffs who break the rules are driving people to increased stress, anxiety and financial hardship, according to new research published today.
A new report from Citizens Advice and StepChange found one person every minute is forced to deal with a debt collector flouting the law and two in five contacted by bailiffs experienced aggression or intimidation.
According to the charities, a third (850,000) of the 2.2 million people contacted by a bailiff in the last two years saw them pushing the legal limits – such as by forcing entry into a home, removing goods needed for work and refusing to accept a reasonable payment plan.
The charities are demanding a new independent bailiff regulator to protect those suffering at the hands of debt collectors breaking the law.
Citizens Advice has examined the impact of bailiffs on people’s mental health and financial position.
Citizens Advice research
Of those who had a negative experience with a bailiff, the charity found:
Seven in ten reported increased stress and anxiety
One in two shouldered a knock-on effects on their finances, including further debt due to enforcement fees.
Government reforms introduced in 2014 to protect people from unfair practices are also failing to protect people, CA said.
The charity has reported a 24% rise in bailiff problems over the last four years, and it remains one of the most common debt issues people turn to their branches for help with.
Bailiffs are also refusing to accept reasonable offers of payment when the debt is unable to be paid in full, CA says. It dealt with nearly 17,000 cases where a person has been forced into hardship due to a bailiff refusing to accept smaller payments.
Rachel Reeves, Labour MP for Leeds West and chair of the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee, called the charities’ report “staggering”.
What rules bailiffs are breaking
A poll by YouGov has found when people were affected by – or witnessed – a bailiff breaking the rules:
One in five (18%) witnessed unsympathetic treatment towards people with an illness/disability
One in six (17%) had a break in threatened (when bailiffs don’t have legal powers to do this)
One in ten (11%) had goods needed for their work removed, for example tools or a vehicle
One in 16 (6%) had entry forced into their home.
“This is unacceptable and it has to stop,” she said. “Bad practice is causing increased stress, anxiety and financial hardship for some of the most vulnerable people in society.
“Far from ‘a few bad apples’ this research shoes that bad practice is endemic in the industry.
“Self-regulation has been proven totally ineffective. Ministers must now act on this evidence and set up an independent bailiff regulator to deliver meaningful and lasting reform.”
It comes after the National Audit Office said in September that aggressive enforcement action does not work and can be harmful when the debtor is struggling to pay.
CA estimates UK households have £19bn of arrears on bills such as council tax and utilities and says that debt has overtaken consumer credit as the most common issue that people seek the charity’s help with.
Gillian Guy, chief executive of CA, said: “Too often bailiffs, and the firms they work for, are a law unto themselves. This is inflicting widespread harm on people and their families and it has to stop.”
Phil Andrew, StepChange chief executive, added: “The fact is that all the main debt advice charities are continuing to see too many cases where bailiffs are breaking the rules. This is completely unacceptable, especially as the people on the receiving end are often distressed, vulnerable and unempowered.”
The Ministry of Justice is due to consult on the enforcement industry.