Proposals have been put in place for a new Enforcement Conduct Authority to change the order of operations within the enforcement industry. 

The proposals are due in a new report from the Centre for Social Justice, which has worked with the debt advice sector (including the Money Advice Trust) and enforcement industry to reach a consensus on plans for a new independent oversight body to protect people in debt.

mother and son smiling and feeling happy because they started an iva

These proposals came from a report from the Centre of Social Justice. They have worked with the debt advice sector and the enforcement industry to create a new independent oversight body that can help people who have fallen into debt.

The scheme, Taking Control, is about levelling up the playing field between bailiffs and people who are being pursued by the bailiffs. The campaign has heard many stories of nasty bailiff behaviour and their proposals are designed to counteract that. 

Their main aims include:

  • Independently regulating the bailiff industry 
  • Making a free and thorough system of communication for bailiff complaints 
  • Giving debtors less mental stress
  • Restructuring bailiff fees to incentivise good practice and behaviours  
  • Providing bailiffs with a framework for agreeing affordable repayments 
  • Protecting vulnerable people from enforcement 
  • Forcing creditors to act responsibly before turning to enforcement 

Bailiffs have been known to reject payment and they have used threatening behaviour towards clients when it hasn’t been necessary. Bailiff Reform highlights that the scheme they are putting weight behind is designed to clean up this relationship between bailiff and debtor, which will in turn benefit all parties. 

Statistics show that creditors get more money back when enforcers are more understanding of the situation of the debtor. The debtor will be more in control of their situation because they will feel less of a strain on their mental health. Bailiffs will also not be responsible for any more personal hardship than is necessary. 

In 2014, changes were made to bailiff enforcement with the focus of helping out the person at their end of their treatment. 

These measured included:

  • Preventing bailiffs from entering the home when children are present 
  • Ensuring a notice period of seven days is sent out before bailiffs can intervene and take control of goods
  • Stopping bailiffs from selling goods, unless seven days have passed from the date the goods were removed
  • The introduction of further protections for people in vulnerable circumstances 

Unfortunately, these changes did not counteract the negative traits of a bailiff’s behaviour. These traits include:

  • Not taking payments
  • Threatening people 
  • Unlawfully taking goods 
  • Inappropriately applying fees
  • Forcing entry into the household
  • Not treating vulnerable people appropriately 

A 2016 survey from step change claimed that nearly half of those who had interacted with bailiffs felt intimidated by their presence. A further breakdown of these intricacies can be found in the Bailiff Reform booklet. Essentially, the amount of distress that bailiffs were creating has been deemed as unacceptable, particularly the effect that it can have on clients. 

The Taking Control group came up with a joint-statement that satisfied everybody who was collectively involved. They said: 

“As a group of debt advice and other organisations supporting people in financial difficulty, we still see far too many examples of bailiffs breaking the rules, treating people unfairly and failing to take vulnerability into account.

“Though it falls short of the full statutory regulation we’ve called for, these proposals are an important opportunity to raise standards and protect people in financial difficulty from unfair practices.

“Government must now step up and deliver more than just words of support for the Enforcement Conduct Authority. This means giving the ECA the authority and tools it needs to set and enforce standards and deliver its mandate to ensure people affected by enforcement action are treated fairly.”

Council tax changes

It is a legal requirement for all working Britons to pay their council tax.

At the same time, tax collection and enforcement shouldn’t come at the expense of fair treatment for all residents. Local authorities are trying to find a working compromise that debts are repaid without compromising the wellbeing of debtors. 

Authorities have a lot of options available to them when they want to take extended action after a missed payment installment. Making an attachment of earnings or a benefits deduction can be a solid way for residents who fall into arrears to repay debt over a sustained period of time, depending on the individual’s circumstances. Authorities seek to use these options before taking a more hands-on approach, referring a case to enforcement agents for example. 

However, before we get to enforcement, the local authorities will look to:

  • Make a plan for a supportive council tax collection. 
  • Work with the debt advice sector.
  • Engage with bill payers. 
  • Study the debtor’s information carefully, in order to find the best solution. 
  • Prepare next steps if a person misses a planned installment. 

The hope is that enforcement agents are only used when the situation demands that they are used. They can be an effective way of dealing with unpaid council tax issues but enforcement agents should ultimately be a last resort. 

If you are struggling with enforcement, the Debt Respite Scheme could be an option for you. This provides a 60 day period where you can work towards providing a solution your debts without the pressure of creditors breathing down your neck.

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