Bailiffs: Enforcement of debt Contents

Conclusions and recommendations


1.Complaints are important and must be investigated properly and learned from—they should be encouraged. But the existing complaints process is fragmented and hard to navigate. This is especially problematic given that debtors are more likely to be vulnerable and dealing with multiple difficulties in their lives, such as ill health or unemployment. (Paragraph 38)

2.There is a gulf between the reports by debt advice charities about numbers of complaints and the reports by bailiff companies, industry associations and the LGSCO. While there may be many reasons for this, we conclude that a more clearly defined and independent complaints process would give important reassurance that all complaints will be fairly and properly investigated. It would also enable much greater transparency about real numbers of justified complaints. (Paragraph 39)

3.We recommend that there should be an independent complaints body, to which all complaints about bailiffs should be escalated if the complainant has exhausted local complaints procedures (ie. those of the organisation for which the bailiff was working). The complaints process should be very clearly set out, and have as few levels as possible so that it is easy to navigate. (Paragraph 43)

4.We recommend that the MOJ should, when deciding where to site the independent complaints function, take full account of the existing role of the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman. It is particularly important as the Ombudsman has the ability to investigate how both the local authority and the enforcement agent acted, in order to ascertain where any fault may lie. (Paragraph 50)

5.The MOJ must also take into account the opportunities afforded by the planned Public Service Ombudsman. However, we are concerned about the delay in introducing the legislation required to implement the Government proposals for this body. We add our voice to that of the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee in recommending that the Government should invite the House of Lords to join the House of Commons in setting up a joint committee to conduct pre-legislative scrutiny of the draft Public Service Ombudsman Bill as soon as possible. (Paragraph 51)


6.We are surprised that bailiffs are apparently so under-regulated compared with other sectors, especially given that they deal with some of the most vulnerable people in society. It does not make sense for enforcement to be regulated only through the rubber-stamping of individuals through a court certification process. In our view, it would increase the reputation of the sector to have much stronger regulation. (Paragraph 63)

7.Having said that, the enforcement industry is relatively small: about 2,500 civil enforcement agents and just over 40 High Court Enforcement Officers are registered with the MOJ. It is important that any new regulation function should be proportionate and not over burdensome, so as to reduce costs which might be passed on to the public purse. (Paragraph 64)

8.We recommend that the Government establish a regulator for the enforcement agent industry, separate to the complaints body. The regulator should be able to stop unfit enforcement agents and companies from practising. It should have the power to set intermediate sanctions such as fines for poor behaviour. An appeal mechanism should be built in. This regulator should also work to change culture and raise standards (for example, by dissemination of good practice, owning and updating the National Standards, and supporting continuing professional development). It should work closely with the complaints body, for example, sharing information about good practice. The Ministry of Justice should consult widely on where this regulatory responsibility should sit, whether in an existing body or a new body, and how it should be funded. (Paragraph 65)


9.We welcome the MOJ’s work to evaluate debt recovery rates, since it is important that as much debt as possible is collected without expensive bailiff visits or the pain of the seizure and sale of personal goods. The fee structure also deserves close attention, since it has not been properly reviewed or updated since its introduction in 2014, despite the Government’s intention at the time to review annually in the light of CPI inflation. Given that these fees are paid by some of the poorest people in society, it is vital that the fees are proportionate. (Paragraph 72)

10.We recommend that the new regulator regularly reviews and makes expert recommendations to the MOJ about the fixed fee structure set out in The Taking Control of Goods (Fees) Regulations 2014. Fees should be set as low as possible while ensuring the sustainability of the enforcement industry. (Paragraph 73)

Body-Worn Cameras

11.Technology has moved on since the National Standards were produced in 2014. We were struck by the LGSCO’s evidence that they had not found fault with the agent’s behaviour in a single case where the enforcement agent was wearing a body- worn camera. (Paragraph 77)

12.We recommend that body-worn cameras be mandatory for all enforcement agents visiting homes and businesses. We also recommend that the regulator produce good practice on their use. (Paragraph 78)

Published: 11 April 2019