Bailiffs Will Be Given Power To Break Into Homes

Bailiffs are set to get sweeping powers to break into homes and seize goods if people fall behind on credit card bills. The move would leave tens of thousands at risk of finding their doors kicked down and TVs and computers seized.

The Government proposals have been condemned by the charity Citizens Advice, which warned of an epidemic of intimidation and damage.

The charity is concerned that bailiffs are already largely a law unto themselves, using threats and menacing tactics to ensure debtors pay up.

Many levy huge and questionable collection charges which force people deeper into debt.

But under the Tribunals, Courts and Enforcement Bill – receiving its second Commons reading today – they will be given the power to break in to domestic premises and enforce consumer credit debts, including credit card bills, which are the subject of a County Court Judgment.

It is not even clear whether the householder will need to be in at the time. That will form part of secondary legislation.

At present, only certain enforcement officers – notably those pursuing magistrates court fines – have powers to break in.

Bailiffs enforcing County Court Judgments can enter a property only if the householder lets them or they find an open window or unlocked door.

Personal debt in Britain has now reached an all-time high of £1.3trillion after a spending and borrowing boom fuelled by banks recklessly offering high credit limits to almost anyone.

Over the last three years there have been a number of suicides of desperate borrowers. In February last year 47-year-old Ian Beech, a father of two, killed himself on the day the family home was due to be repossessed.

Citizens Advice fears the new powers for bailiffs could lead to more such tragedies.

It says evidence from its network of bureaux has shown that intimidation, harassment and excessive fee-charging by bailiffs are commonplace.

Analysis of 500 cases showed that almost twothirds of bailiffs were guilty of harassment or intimidation, 40 per cent misrepresented their powers of entry, almost half levied unfair fees and a quarter threatened the debtor with imprisonment.

Chief executive David Harker said: “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.”

He added: “Bailiff law is complex, confusing and long overdue for reform. This Bill was a perfect opportunity to modernise the law and end abuse once and for all.

“Instead it gives bailiffs greater powers without proper regulation – a recipe for abuse on an unprecedented scale.

“It is a scandal and a disgrace that six years after the Government made a commitment to bring in independent regulation, the misery and abuse continues.”

Citizens Advice is calling on the Government to include clear safeguards in the Bill to ensure forced entry is a last resort.

It should be employed only where it can be shown that the debtor is not a vulnerable person and that non-payment is the result of wilful or culpable neglect.

The charity is also pressing for independent regulation of bailiffs in the proposed legislation.

The Debt on our Doorstep Coalition, a group of churches, charities and debt advice experts, also opposes giving bailiffs a right to break in.

A spokesman said: “Bailiffs often act in unacceptable ways towards debtors who, for the most part, are incapable of paying the debts in question.”