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Evictions and Bailiff Enforcement Activity: Covid-19

Volume 688: debated on Tuesday 2 February 2021

What assessment he has made of the implications for his Department’s policies of (a) evictions and (b) other enforcement activity conducted by bailiff organisations during the covid-19 outbreak. (911690)

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for raising this issue. Effective enforcement is essential to the administration of justice, but it must be done safely during the pandemic. This Government have banned bailiffs from enforcing evictions in England, except in the most serious circumstances, until at least 21 February, to help control the spread of infection. We have published covid-safe guidance for bailiffs who are enforcing debts and fines, and have requested that they do not enter homes at present to take control of goods.

I am glad that the Minister has touched on this, but I am sure he will agree that, in the middle of a deadly pandemic, there could be no worse time for hard-up families to receive a knock at the door, yet the Government are still permitting bailiffs to undertake unsafe and unfair doorstep enforcement action. The shadow Minister for legal aid, my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull East (Karl Turner), has written to the Lord Chancellor twice in the last six months, urging him to pause home visits, as have 11 debt advice charities, which have also outlined widespread abuse of bailiff action during covid-19. Can we have a very clear answer from the Minister: will he reimpose the ban on home visits from the first national lockdown, and will he deliver on the Government’s 18-month-old promise of better industry regulations?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question. It is very important to distinguish between evictions and enforcement. In respect of evictions, the Government have been very clear: people cannot be evicted before 21 February unless arrears are of over six months. In normal circumstances, if someone simply had two months of arrears, they could then be subject to enforcement action. Now there needs to be six months’ notice before possession proceedings even start. This Government are clear that we want to ensure that enforcement agents do not contribute to the spread of this virus, and that is why we have strict regulations in place.

We have, on average, over 20,000 new covid infections each day and, tragically, more than 1,000 deaths, so how can the Minister possibly justify allowing bailiffs to crack on with business as usual in the midst of this deadly pandemic?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question, but he knows and I know that it is not business as usual. In making that remark, he has completely disregarded the guidance that is in place. Of course we want to make sure that these proceedings happen safely. That is why Public Health England has considered these matters, and it is satisfied with the situation as it exists. We have to make sure in this Government that we respect all rights, including convention rights—article 1 of protocol 1—and he should be in favour of that too.