Plans for bailiffs to be self-regulated revealed but Martin Lewis warns compulsory regulation that all firms must follow is needed
Plans for bailiffs in England and Wales to be self-regulated have been put forward by the Centre for Social Justice in a bid to better protect people in debt. But Martin Lewis, founder of MoneySavingExpert.com, warns that the industry-funded body doesn't go far enough, saying that every bailiff firm needs to be "tightly and independently" regulated.
Think tank the Centre for Social Justice (CSJ) has today published a report that puts forward plans to launch a new body called 'The Enforcement Conduct Authority' (ECA), which aims to raise bailiff standards with new rules to be developed in consultation with the industry. The new body will also supervise the practice of bailiffs and issue sanctions for rule-breaking and sub-standard behaviour.
In addition, a standardised two-stage complaints process will also be set-up for consumers. It's hoped that this will "ensure fair treatment and protection" for those subject to bailiff enforcement, particularly people who are financially vulnerable. The new body is set to launch later this year - you can read the full report on the CSJ website.
But while the CSJ says the new body will be independent, it will be funded by the bailiff industry. It also won't be compulsory for all firms to follow the new rules - something Martin has warned doesn't go far enough - although the CSJ says it will be mandatory for the 95% of firms that are members of trade body the Civil Enforcement Association to sign up. It hopes the Ministry of Justice will make ECA accreditation mandatory in future. See our Debt Problems guide for what to do and where to get help if you're struggling.
'We need every company in the industry to be tightly and independently regulated.'
Martin Lewis, founder of MoneySavingExpert.com, said: “I am concerned this may be a pyrrhic victory. While any regulation is a welcome improvement in the short term, this self-regulation will not cover the whole industry. We cannot simply allow the companies that are willing to be policed, to choose to police themselves, with the rest remaining on the outside. We need every company in the industry to be tightly and independently regulated.
“After all, it is possible over 50% of those being dealt with by bailiffs have mental health issues and vulnerabilities – so this isn’t an arcane philosophical discussion, lives are at risk. While I do expect these voluntary trade rules to mean some improvement, the problem is that it is a sop to the Government and bailiffs, letting them off the hook from bringing in proper, statutory-based, compulsory regulation that all firms must follow.”
Your rights if you're visited by a bailiff
Before you let a bailiff in to take your things or pay them, ask to see proof of identity, check which company they're from, and ask for a telephone contact number and a breakdown of what you owe.
You can pay the bailiff on the doorstep – you don't have to let them into your home, but make sure you get a receipt to prove you've paid.
If you can't afford to pay in full, you can offer to pay in monthly or weekly instalments. They don't have to accept this, but it will show your intent to pay.
If the bailiff threatens or harasses you, or breaks into your house, you can complain about them. You can complain about private bailiffs by contacting the company they work for or the trade organisation they are part of. If they are a court bailiff or civilian enforcement officer, you can complain using this form.
What does the Government say?
The Ministry of Justice told us it has committed to reviewing the ECA within two years to see if any statutory changes are necessary. A spokesperson said: “The Enforcement Conduct Authority (ECA) will make a real difference to protecting the vulnerable and driving up standards while improving the effectiveness of enforcement.”
Joe Shalam, head of financial inclusion at the Centre for Social Justice added: "Leading debt charities and enforcement firms have worked pragmatically and at pace to radically improve the protections for people in debt. The joint proposals published by the Centre for Social Justice today for an Enforcement Conduct Authority (ECA) have been welcomed as a landmark breakthrough."
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