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News: Law set to allow legal break-in to your home

An unpaid credit card bill could soon be all the excuse a bailiff needs to break into your home and seize belongings – with the full blessing of the law – Citizens Advice warned today.

The national charity fears that vulnerable people will be at greater risk from bailiffs abusing their powers as a result of measures contained in the Tribunals, Courts and Enforcement Bill, which gets its second reading in the House of Commons today.  

If it becomes law, the Bill will extend to all bailiffs the power to forcibly enter domestic premises to enforce debts, including consumer credit debts such as credit card bills. Currently only certain bailiffs have this power, most notably those enforcing magistrates’ court fines.

Citizens Advice is pressing for independent regulation of bailiffs to be included in the Bill.  It also wants clear safeguards to ensure that forcible entry is only used as a last resort and only where it can be shown that the debtor is not a vulnerable person and that non-payment is the result of wilful refusal or culpable neglect.

Evidence from local Citizens Advice bureaux shows that many private bailiffs already act almost as a law unto themselves, with devastating effects on people’s lives. Intimidation, harassment and excessive fee charging by bailiffs are commonplace, driving already vulnerable people deeper into poverty and debt.

An analysis of 500 case reports from Citizens Advice Bureaux in England and Wales since October 2006 found that:

  • Almost two-thirds (64%) of bailiffs were guilty of harassment or intimidation
  • 40% misrepresented their powers of entry.
  • A quarter threatened debtors with imprisonment and
  • 42% charged excessive fees.  

In over half the cases, the debtor was vulnerable.  In all these instances the bailiffs concerned were either breaking the law or in breach of their own industry code and nationally agreed standards of practice.

David Harker, chief executive of Citizens Advice said: “Our evidence over many years shows that bailiffs have an appalling track record of abusing their existing powers against vulnerable people. They are often abusive and aggressive, and use threats of violence and prison to pressurise people into paying lump sums they cannot afford.”

“Bailiff law is complex, confusing and long overdue for reform. This Bill should have been the perfect opportunity to modernise the law and end abuse once and for all. Instead it gives bailiffs greater powers without any proper regulation – a recipe for abuse on an unprecedented scale.”

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