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Bailiff and Enforcement Law

Volume 489: debated on Tuesday 17 March 2009

Today, I am announcing measures to strengthen regulation of the enforcement industry and clarify the rights, responsibilities and legal limits of debtors, creditors and bailiffs.

The Tribunals, Courts and Enforcement Act received Royal Assent in July 2007. It goes a long way to codify over 800 years of bailiff and enforcement law, following 10 years of assessment, debate and consultation. Last year my right hon. Friend Secretary of State for Justice and Lord Chancellor asked for a reassessment to ensure that the enforcement provisions in the Act remain appropriate. Following a comprehensive review, I can confirm that the Government will not extend bailiffs’ powers of entry and the use of force by enforcement agents. In addition, the Government will not implement part 4 of the 2007 Act which would have made changes in the areas of:

attachment of earnings fixed tables;

attachment of earnings tracing;

charging order reforms; and

information requests and orders.

We will, however, be offering help and support for people who need it now. We will be implementing the following measures in advance of full independent regulation:

an online certificated bailiff register allowing debtors to check bailiffs’ certification status;

an extension to the certification process to ensure that all bailiffs provide a Criminal Records Bureau check with their application; and

minimum training requirements and competences for inclusion in the certification process.

These measures will contribute to the development of the more permanent solution of full independent regulation in 2012.

Part 3 of the 2007 Act makes a number of important reforms to bailiff law which will remove archaic and complex legislation. The majority of these reforms received cross-party support during its passage. The changes will help debtors, creditors, bailiffs and the police understand what their rights and responsibilities are when debts are enforced. Provisions under the Act will clarify the existing law and introduce a comprehensive code governing, among other things:

when and how a bailiff can enter somebody’s premises;

what goods they can and cannot seize and sell; and

what fees they can charge.

This will provide clarity for debtors and certainty for creditors and be underpinned by independent regulation of the enforcement industry. Regulation will not only improve the efficiency and effectiveness of both civil and criminal enforcement but it will also offer protection to vulnerable debtors, who genuinely cannot pay, and reduce the scope for abuse of the system. A formalised structure to regulate the industry would raise standards of professionalism within the industry and give the public greater confidence in it.

We will produce a consultation paper which will set out the Government’s intentions for a package of measures which will address concerns that have been raised about the behaviour of bailiffs, the fees charged and proposals for the regulation of the bailiff industry. It will also set out draft regulations on seizure of goods, and allow for detailed consideration of a standardised fee structure. The intention is to commence this consultation exercise with a view to implementing the changes in April 2012.

This will allow business, local authorities, courts, creditors, the enforcement industry and the advice sector a substantial period of time to adequately prepare for and introduce the change.