Bailiffs

Oral Answers to Questions — Justice – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 9th October 2018.

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Photo of Yvonne Fovargue Yvonne Fovargue Shadow Minister (Housing, Communities and Local Government) 12:00 am, 9th October 2018

What assessment his Department has made of the effectiveness of the regulation of bailiffs.

Photo of Lucy Frazer Lucy Frazer The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice

Mr Speaker, may I share in your remarks about PC Palmer and pay tribute to him and his work in this House?

As chair of the all-party parliamentary group on debt and personal finance, Yvonne Fovargue is campaigning hard on this important issue, and she is right that bailiffs are not operating as they should in some areas. I was pleased to have the opportunity to meet with Sarah Jones and her constituents, the Rogers family, who sadly lost Jerome as a result of and following some action by bailiffs. We intend to launch a call for evidence shortly to evaluate our most recent bailiff reforms.

Photo of Yvonne Fovargue Yvonne Fovargue Shadow Minister (Housing, Communities and Local Government)

I, too, met the family of Jerome Rogers, and I pay tribute to them for their courage in taking the campaign forward. However, Jerome’s case perfectly highlights why the industry needs regulating, because his problems were just the tip of an iceberg. Citizens Advice helped 41,000 people with 90,000 bailiff issues last year—one person every three minutes. The call for evidence relates to rogue bailiffs, but this is not just about one or two wayward individuals; the whole system is rotten. Will the Minister consider the need for an independent body to regulate and police the industry properly?

Photo of Lucy Frazer Lucy Frazer The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice

The hon. Lady makes some important points. Officials in my Department recently met with Citizens Advice, StepChange, the Money Advice Trust and AdviceUK to discuss such issues. Last month, they also met the Certificated Enforcement Agents Association. I have met Peter Tutton, the head of policy at StepChange, and he made a statement similar to the hon. Lady’s about the need for independent regulation. We will be putting forward a call for evidence and questions will be asked on variety of issues.

Photo of Kevin Foster Kevin Foster Conservative, Torbay

There will always be difficulties when debts are pursued, particularly when people may genuinely be struggling to pay them. As for the call for evidence, how will the Minister be working with local authorities, which obviously engage bailiffs to enforce council tax debt against those who may be most struggling to pay off such debt?

Photo of Lucy Frazer Lucy Frazer The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice

As my hon. Friend highlights, council tax debt is an important area in which we must ensure that bailiffs and enforcement agents are operating appropriately, and we will be looking at the enforcement work that bailiffs do.

Photo of David Drew David Drew Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

Will the Minister call for accurate statistics as part of the review? It is difficult to get to the facts in this area, including the number of people who are suffering because of bailiffs, so will she look into that as a matter of urgency?

Photo of Lucy Frazer Lucy Frazer The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice

Of course, evidence is extremely important. I should mention that when we reviewed the legislation earlier this year, we found that not all bailiffs act inappropriately. A large number act in accordance with the regulations that we set out, but we need to look at the small number who do not.

Photo of Chris Bryant Chris Bryant Chair, Finance Committee (Commons)

But it is like the wild west at the moment, and often there is no redress when the bailiffs have made a mistake. I have one case in which a family lost their property because the bailiffs went to Treorchy instead of Treherbert. Three years later, the police will not investigate and there is no body to which they can go to get their place back. It is surely time that we acted instead of having yet more consultation.

Photo of Lucy Frazer Lucy Frazer The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice

I would be very interested to hear about the case that the hon. Gentleman mentions. There is regulation in relation to bailiffs. For example, they have to be appointed by the court every two years. They come to the court to get their authorisation. So measures are in place to protect people, but we are looking at the issue and we must go further.