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Jonathan Djanogly (The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice; Huntingdon, Conservative)

On 17 February the Government published a consultation paper on transforming bailiff action. This is the next step in the Government’s work to provide more protection against aggressive bailiffs in England and Wales following the recently published new standards defining acceptable behaviour for those working in the industry.

The need for a workable means to enforce the payment of debts and fines is important to both the economy and the justice system. Without assurance that it is possible, with due process, to recoup money from debtors unwilling to pay, it would be too risky for creditors to lend, and the effectiveness of courts would diminish.

Yet for too many ordinary people bailiff action is an intrusive, expensive and stressful experience. Two of the worst features of the current process are the complexities surrounding bailiffs’ powers and the absence of a clear and fair charging regime. We also need to do much more to protect the most vulnerable in society. It is not acceptable that some bailiffs are aggressive, and use threatening behaviour to gain entry to premises, especially when children are the only persons present.

This package of proposals seeks to restore balance to the system, improving clarity so that both debtors and creditors know where they stand, strengthening protections for the vulnerable, and ensuring that individuals, business and Government are able to collect the debts they are owed. Its aim is to respect both the competing rights of the creditor and the debtor.

So our first proposal is to prohibit the use of force against a person, introduce safeguards to protect children and ensure there is a clear and effective complaints process available to the debtor. We are also introducing a compliance stage in the proposed costs regime enabling the bailiff to recover initial administrative costs, therefore reducing the need for the bailiff to attend a debtor’s property. Underpinning these changes, the paper sets out the minimum standards expected from bailiffs and a certification process to ensure that they are fit to operate.

Equally importantly, we recognise that the law in this area is antiquated, archaic and confusing—so much so that too often it thwarts effective and proportionate enforcement. Our plans for change will ensure that the law is fit for today’s society. We will introduce a comprehensive code which sets out when and how a bailiff can enter a property, prescribe precisely to whom and under what circumstances reasonable force to enter premises will be available, what goods can and cannot be seized and sold, and what costs a bailiff can recover.

Copies of the consultation paper have been placed in the Vote Office and in the Printed Paper Office. The document is also available online, at:

http://www.justice.gov.uk/consultations/consultations.htm.

The consultation will run until 14 May 2012. A response paper is scheduled to be published in October 2012.

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