The behaviour of some bailiffs is making people’s financial struggles worse, according to Citizens Advice, which is calling for stronger regulation of the sector.
The charity said that with high living costs raising the risk of people falling behind on bills, the regulation of bailiff firms should be put on a statutory footing.
A YouGov survey commissioned by Citizens Advice asked people across England and Wales about their experiences with bailiffs.
Nearly half (49%) of those who said they had come into contact with a bailiff said they had experienced long-term financial consequences, such as debts becoming harder to manage, needing to take out more credit and not being able to pay other bills because of bailiff fees.
Almost three in four (72%) saw their mental health impacted, for example, feeling unsafe in their home, being afraid to answer the door and not wanting to leave their house, the charity said.
Citizens Advice also raised concerns about some behaviour, such as some bailiffs apparently not taking vulnerabilities such as a disability or illnesses into account or taking goods needed for work reasons.
The charity highlighted the case of a man who lives with a partner and has a child who is disabled.
He had a £90 debt from a missed council tax payment and was put on a repayment plan.
The man said he missed a payment on his plan because his child had been taken to hospital.
He was woken up before 6am by a call from a bailiff who was outside his home.
The bailiff wanted nearly £500 in extra fees for their visit, Citizens Advice said, otherwise the man’s car, which was clamped, could have been removed.
The man told the charity: “In the end, I got someone to come down with a bank card to pay the bailiff through his car window. Once it was paid he got out of his car and removed the clamp.
“I suffer from PTSD and my anxiety kicked in. It was a really bad day for me. I had to pay back the money I had borrowed which left us short, so other bills didn’t get paid and we’ve been left robbing Peter to pay Paul.”
More than 5,700 people took part in the survey.
Citizens Advice said it believes that with more people falling into debt and potentially exposed to bailiff action, a voluntary, self-regulation model is no longer able to meet the scale of the issue.
Dame Clare Moriarty, chief executive of Citizens Advice, said: “Rogue behaviour is making things far worse for people in really difficult situations – sometimes pushing them further into debt.
“Rules are in place to try and ensure bailiffs act fairly to recover debt, but our advisers are hearing from people every day who are being intimidated and harassed by bailiffs breaking these rules.
“This can’t be allowed to continue… we need the Government to step up and ensure the industry is held accountable for its actions through a statutory regulatory body.”
A Ministry of Justice spokesperson said: “It is vital that vulnerable people in debt are protected and not harassed by rogue bailiffs, which is why we have announced plans to make body-worn video cameras compulsory and backed the recently established Enforcement Conduct Board to better hold private bailiffs to account.
“We will review whether the board requires a statutory footing after it has been running for two years.”
Chris Nichols, chief executive of the Enforcement Conduct Board, said: “The Enforcement Conduct Board has been created to ensure that all those who are subject to enforcement action in England and Wales are treated fairly.
“Today we are launching a consultation on our draft business plan setting out the steps we plan to take to deliver on our mission. This will include building an evidence base relating to current experiences of enforcement action and launching an accreditation scheme this summer, enabling those working in the enforcement industry to formally commit to high standards.
“The ECB is also working with creditors to encourage them to commit to using only accredited enforcement firms, helping to raise standards across the board.
“We look forward to continuing to work with all our partners to promote best practice in the industry and for the benefit of those struggling with problem debt.”
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