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Bailiffs: Enforcement of debt - Report Summary

This is a House of Commons Committee report with recommendations to the Government. The Government has two months to respond.

Author: Justice Committee

Date Published: 11 April 2019

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This inquiry investigates concerns about a rise in complaints about bailiffs (also known as enforcement agents) recorded by debt advice charities. We welcome the Ministry of Justice's own call for evidence on rogue bailiffs, which has just closed; our inquiry sits alongside this.

We are grateful to the enforcement agents, debt charities and others who shared their views with us.

Image: Justice Committee hearing

Justice Committee hearing

Source: Parliamentary Copyright


We found strong differences of view on whether the 2014 reforms of the enforcement industry, which introduced individual certification of enforcement agents and a standardised fee regime, had been successful. There was a gulf between the large numbers of complaints reported by the debt advice charities and the very small numbers reported by the enforcement agencies, industry associations and others.

We found however, a general consensus that there was room for improvements in how complaints were handled. The current complaints system is fragmented and hard to navigate, especially for vulnerable people.

The Justice Committee is recommending to the Government:

  • 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 (i.e. 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.
  • 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.
  • 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 were surprised that bailiffs are apparently so under-regulated compared with other sectors, including debt collection. The existing system of individual certification by the courts seems to be a rubber-stamping exercise.

The Justice Committee is recommending to the Government:

  • 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.


The fee structure deserves close attention, since it has not been properly reviewed or updated since its introduction in 2014, despite a Government commitment at the time to do so annually in the light of Consumer Price Index (CPI) inflation. Equally, given that these fees are paid by some of the poorest people in society, it is also vital that the fees are proportionate.

The Justice Committee is recommending to the Government:

  • 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

Body worn cameras

The Justice Committee is recommending to the Government:

  • that body-worn cameras be mandatory for all enforcement agents visiting homes and businesses.
  • that the regulator produce good practice on their use.
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