Memorandum submitted by the Local Authority Civil Enforcement Forum (TRI 6)
I am the chair and founder of the Local Authority Civil Enforcement Forum (LACEF*). This forum was set up initially as a way of networking and spreading best practice amongst council employed bailiffs. It has since grown to represent over 160 local authorities debt recovery/enforcement teams and has 350 members. We also have members from the county courts and abroad.
I was a member of the then LCD's Advisory Group on Effective Enforcement, so you can see my personal interest. I also represent LACEF on the Enforcement Law Reform Group.
Whether as an employee of bailiffs or user of private bailiffs; local authorities are heavy users of bailiff services to recover local taxes and parking fines.
LACEF fully supports the Tribunal Courts & Enforcement Bill but would like to draw your attention to areas that we feel need clarifying or amending.
Regulation of bailiffs
There should be an independent regulator with powers to deal with licensing, complaints and act as an advisor to government.
There should be no exemptions to being licensed as a bailiff. It is our view that the role of bailiff needs to be clearer and the standards raised considerably by the use of training and examinations.
Around the world, many countries are reforming their bailiff law (most noticeably former communist countries and on the African continent). Effective, professional bailiffs are seen as an important part of their justice systems.
We wish to retain the name 'bailiff' to prevent confusion (deliberate or
otherwise) with the numerous enforcement agents already working in a variety of non debt-collecting posts. As stated above, the term 'bailiff' is known throughout the world and there are many countries that have cross-border cooperation, associations etc with their respective bailiffs.
Taking control of goods
We are concerned that this seems overly complicated and perhaps restrictive. Bailiffs will no longer be able to 'take control' and walk away leaving goods in situ. This often happens when the debtor or agent cannot be found and it is very rarely advisable to remove goods instantly, much better to use the threat to get payment. Also, as it reads at the moment, only a debtor can sign the order thereby removing any options open to the bailiff.
Powers of entry & re-entry
We agree that force (with a court order) is needed for those professional debt avoiders who can simply circumvent the law by not answering the door or hiding behind locked gates. We feel that the very idea of using force will encourage payment and will rarely be used.
A court order should not be necessary if returning to remove or inspect goods previously secured.
The current situation is too prescriptive and if anything should be made easier and subjective. A simple exemption such as essential goods to maintain a decent standard of living should suffice. Encouraging the bailiff to offer replacement lower value goods is probably unworkable. In addition, we would like to see the 'Tools of the Trade' restriction removed as not being applicable in this day and age. One final point, the hire purchase style protection on cars should be removed for bailiffs. It seems strange that a lender, who would not take a normal risk using credit referencing, can secure their debt, no matter how onerous on the debtor, on a fast depreciating asset. We are even seeing online pawnbroking for cars now, effectively preventing recovery of car parking fines.
As a wish list item I would have liked to have seen an offence of assaulting a bailiff or preventing him executing a court order. Levels of abuse and violence have increased in recent years and perhaps in the public sector, with an eye on risk-assessments, we take this rather more seriously than accepting it as 'part of the job'.