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Government

Body worn-cameras for bailiffs

Body worn-cameras will be made compulsory for bailiffs, says the Government. The Ministry of Justice (MoJ) says it’s to give people in debt greater protection from ‘rogue bailiffs’.

Justice Parliamentary Under Secretary of State and Blackpool North MP Paul Maynard said: “The use of intimidation and aggression by some bailiffs is utterly unacceptable, and it is right we do all we can to tackle such behaviour. Whilst most bailiffs act above board, body-worn cameras will provide greater security for all involved – not least consumers who are often vulnerable. We are looking carefully at other measures to improve the system and will not hesitate to take action where necessary.”

The MoJ promises further findings and action on bailiff behaviour to be published later this year. A Government call for evidence last year was the latest effort by Government to act on what it admits are some ‘intimidating practices’ by bailiffs against ‘vulnerable people’ in debt. The law has been Part 3 and Schedule 12 of the Tribunals, Courts and Enforcement Act 2007. The reforms provided legal protection by introducing a code governing, among other things:

– when and how enforcement agents can enter somebody’s premises;
– safeguards to prevent the use of force against debtors;
– what goods they can and cannot seize and, if necessary, sell; and
– what fees they can charge.

A review in 2015 – not published until 2018 – did find that some bailiffs were guilty of ‘acting aggressively’ and not following the code. Hence the second review; and a Justice Select Committee inquiry, published in April. That committee of MPs raised concerns about a rise in complaints about bailiffs (also known as enforcement agents) recorded by debt advice charities; and ‘found strong differences of view on whether the 2014 reforms of the enforcement industry, which introduced individual certification of enforcement agents and a standardised fee regime, had been successful’, between those advice charities, and the bailiff sector and its trade bodies. The MPs’ report recommended that body-worn cameras be mandatory for all enforcement agents visiting homes and businesses, to protect the agent and debtor alike, and to make it easier to investigate complaints.

The MoJ promises ‘further engagement’ with the enforcement industry and the advice sector. The work to make the use of body-worn cameras mandatory relates to High Court Enforcement Agents and certificated enforcement agents, who may be pursuing council tax debt or unpaid debts owed to individuals and businesses. It does not relate to County Court Bailiffs who are employees of HMCTS and who were out of scope for the review.

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The charity Citizens Advice says 44,000 people sought help on bailiff issues in the past 12 months. Gillian Guy, Chief Executive of Citizens Advice, said: “Bailiff body cameras will do nothing to protect people while there is no industry regulator to oversee how they are used. While it’s encouraging the Government has committed to further action, its next step must be the creation of an independent regulator to crack down on rule-breaking bailiffs.

“At Citizens Advice, we help one person every three minutes with a bailiff problem. We hope the government will take full consideration of our recommendations in its upcoming response to its call for evidence.”

Russell Hamblin-Boone, CEO of the Civil Enforcement Association (CIVEA), a trade association covering England and Wales, said: We have been working towards an industry agreement on the compulsory use of body-worn video. Following talks with Ministers we are encouraged by the decision that all enforcement agents must record their activities, which should include in-house council teams. This decision offers reassurance to the public that standards are consistently high and gives protection to our agents who do a difficult job on behalf of local authorities.”

Photo by Mark Rowe; door knocker, Barcelona.


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