Bailiffs: Enforcement of debt Contents


The different types of bailiff

11.A ‘bailiff’ is a person who is authorised to collect a particular type of debt on behalf of a creditor. They may do this by asking for payment of the debt, whether in whole or through a repayment plan, or (much less commonly) by seizing the debtor’s goods and selling these at auction to raise the money needed to repay the debt and cover their fees. Their authority to collect debt comes from a warrant or a writ of control, issued by a court.

12.The law relating to bailiffs is complex, not least because there are different types, including:

a)Civil Enforcement Agents, used to take control of goods and act on a warrant issued by the County Court for debts such as: council tax arrears; parking fines; traffic fixed-penalty notices; and child support payments. This is the largest group,12 normally employed by a private enforcement agency or self-employed; a number are employed directly by local authorities.

b)High Court Enforcement Officers, appointed to enforce High Court orders or County Court orders transferred to the High Court by the creditor. Debts include: utility bills; business debts; tribunal awards; and rent arrears.

c)County Court bailiffs, employed directly by HM Court and Tribunals Service to enforce County Court orders and orders made by the tribunals that have been transferred to the County Court for enforcement. This includes collection of debts regulated by the Consumer Credit Act 2006 (for example, credit cards, personal loans or overdrafts). As County Court bailiffs are employed directly and were not the focus of recent MOJ reforms, these are out of scope of this inquiry.13

13.All civil enforcement agents are individually certificated by the County Court and registered with the MOJ.14 The most frequent use of bailiffs is to collect local authority Council Tax debts, followed by local authority parking debts.15

14.There is no formal regulatory body for bailiffs, who may instead choose to join trade associations who offer guidance on legislation, provide training and deal with complaints. Civil enforcement agents may join the Civil Enforcement Association (CIVEA) or the Certificated Enforcement Agent Association (CEAA). High Court Enforcement Officers are required to be members of their trade association (the High Court Enforcement Officers Association).

Bailiff reforms introduced in 2014

15.The Government introduced reforms in 2014, which implemented provisions in the Tribunals, Courts and Enforcement Act 2007. These reforms aimed to:

a)disincentivise aggressive enforcement: specifically excessive charging and the premature or unnecessary undertaking of enforcement activity;

b)incentivise earlier recovery of debt;

c)provide protection against inappropriate agent behaviour: specifically, threatening behaviour and misrepresentation of legal authority;

d)simplify the process for enforcement agents, debtors and creditors;

e)provide adequate protection for debtors, particularly the vulnerable, and for third parties and co-owners;

f)maintain or improve the effectiveness of enforcement; and

g)fairly and adequately reward enforcement agents for the work they do.16

16.Box 1 below sets out the contents of the reforms, which came into force in April 2014. This new legislative package is supported by National Standards on enforcement, also published in 2014. These National Standards were designed by the Government as a minimum standard for bailiffs, the enforcement agencies that employ them and the creditors that use their services. The standards focus on the professionalism of bailiffs and the expectation that bailiffs will at all times act fairly towards the debtor. However, these standards are not legally binding and have not been updated in the last five years.

Box 1: Reforms to enforcement of debt (2014)

  • A new procedure bailiffs must follow when collecting debt (The Taking Control of Goods Regulations 2013). This includes standard letters and notices to inform debtors about the process, what they will be charged, their rights and where to get further advice. The procedure includes measures to prevent bailiffs from taking vital household essentials or items which are necessary for use by the debtor in their work or study. Two regulations provide protections for children and vulnerable people (although the regulation does not contain a definition of “vulnerable person”);
  • A new standardised fee regime with trigger points for payment at stages in the process (The Taking Control of Goods (Fees) Regulations 2014). There are fixed fees which can be charged to the debtor at each stage for:
    • compliance (ie. issuing an enforcement notice requesting payment);
    • enforcement (ie. visit); and
    • sale (removing and selling controlled goods).

The MOJ set out in an Explanatory Memorandum its intention to review, the level of fees annually, and to uplift the baseline fees with reference to the most recent September Consumer Price Index (CPI) figure.

  • Requirements that individuals must meet before they are certified to act as bailiffs (The Certification of Enforcement Agents Regulations 2014); and
  • Mandatory training to ensure enforcement agents have the skills required to perform the role—for example, that they recognise vulnerable people. Enforcement agents are required to pass an exam to qualify for certification.

12 Source: Ministry of Justice, Review of the 2014 enforcement agent reforms introduced by the Tribunals, Courts and Enforcement Act 2007: Call for evidence (25 November 2018), which states that there are currently about 2,500 civil enforcement agents and just over 40 High Court Enforcement Officers registered with the Ministry of Justice.

13 For further information, see House of Commons Library Briefing Paper Number CBP04103, Q&A: Enforcement officers (formerly known as bailiffs), 24 January 2019

15 Citizens Advice, A law unto themselves- how bailiffs are breaking the rules (2018), P5, quoting data from Money Advice Trust and Ministry of Justice

Published: 11 April 2019