Bailiff rules have been tightened… and more reform will follow soon

The Ministry of Justice has recently published revised national standards for enforcement agents, which sets out the minimum standards of behaviour expected of bailiffs and bailiff firms.

The voluntary code has been tightened so that the public are protected from rogue bailiffs who use unsound, unsafe or unfair methods, while at the same time making sure businesses and authorities can still collect debts fairly.

The national standards provide guidance on a range of issues, including:

1. Creditors’ responsibilities when instructing and dealing with enforcement agents or agencies (e.g. creditors must provide a contact point at appropriate times, to allow the enforcement agent or agency to raise essential queries, particularly where there is cause for concern);

2. Professional conduct requirements for enforcement agents (e.g. the need to present appropriate identification to the debtor and to carry out their duties in a professional, calm and dignified manner);

3. Compliance with statutory or financial requirements (e.g. enforcement agencies must keep a complete record of all financial transactions in whatever capacity undertaken, and must maintain suitable and comprehensive insurance cover);

4. Training and certification. All agents, employees and contractors must be provided with appropriate training to ensure that they are able to always act within the bounds of the relevant legislation;

5. The need to operate complaints and disciplinary procedures with which agents are fully conversant. Enforcement agents/agencies are encouraged to make use of the complaints and disciplinary procedures of professional associations such as The Civil Enforcement Association or the High Court Enforcement Officers Association.

6. Acceptable times and hours for enforcement activity. Enforcement should only be carried out between the hours of 6.00am and 9.00pm or at any time during trading hours. It should not be undertaken on Sundays, on Good Friday or on Christmas Day, unless the court specifically orders otherwise. Enforcement agents should carefully consider the appropriateness of undertaking enforcement on any day of religious or cultural observance or during any major religious or cultural festival.

7. What goods can be taken. Enforcement agents must ensure that goods are handled carefully and that they have insurance in place for goods in transit so that any damage is covered by the policy. Items clearly identifiable as an item belonging to, or for the exclusive use of a child under the age of 16 should not be removed. A receipt for the goods removed should be given to the debtor or left at the premises.

8. Vulnerable situations. Enforcement agents/agencies and creditors must recognise that they each have a role in ensuring that the vulnerable and socially excluded are protected (e.g. the elderly, recently bereaved, single mothers and pregnant women).) Enforcement agents must withdraw without making enquiries if the only persons present are children who appear to be under the age of 12.

A copy of the revised national standards are here.

The Government has also announced that a consultation on proposals to create a new legally binding regulatory regime for bailiffs will follow in spring 2012. These will include:

1. New rules governing the permitted modes and times of entry by enforcement agents to make it clear when and how an enforcement agent may enter a home or a business;

2. Which goods are exempt to make it clear which items an enforcement agent may not take from someone’s home or business premises; and

3. What fees bailiffs can charge for the range of debts that they collect for local government, courts and businesses.

The Government aims to introduce these changes as soon as possible.