Bailiffs - some recent developments

A recent press release from the Ministry of Justice is of note to those with an interest in insolvency issues. Released on the 17 March 2009 it is entitled "Tighter regulations for bailiffs announced." (The Prentice announcement.) This follows a press release of the 18 March 2008: "Dodgy bailiffs ruled out."  (The Eagle announcement.) The Prentice announcement, made by Justice Minister Ms Bridget Prentice MP, relates to plans for a new code regulating the activities of bailiffs. The code will "provide clarity for debtors and certainty for creditors" and will contain the following measures:
  • "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
  • minimum training requirements and competences for inclusion in the certification process."
The press announcement goes on to note that, "These measures, which will commence later in the year, will contribute to the development of the more permanent solution of independent regulation in 2012. However, following a comprehensive reassessment of the provisions in the Tribunals, Courts and Enforcement Act 2007 ordered by the Secretary of State for Justice, the government will not be extending bailiffs' powers of entry and the use of force by enforcement agents, and will not be commencing Charging Order reforms." Justice Minister Ms Bridget Prentice MP said:

"Last year Jack Straw asked me to look again at enforcement provisions contained in the TCE Act, to assess whether they remained appropriate. As a result the government is today introducing plans for a number of measures and which will prepare the ground for long term reform of the enforcement industry and a new code governing the activities of bailiffs. This will help debtors, creditors, bailiffs and the police understand what their rights and responsibilities are when debts are enforced. However, following the reassessment the government will not now be commencing provisions on Charging Orders or taking any action that would extend bailiffs powers of entry."

The Eagle announcement, the forerunner in 2008 which mooted these proposals, was made by another Justice Minister, Ms Maria Eagle MP. The Eagle announcement relates to plans which are designed to protect householders from unscrupulous bailiffs in England and Wales. The Eagle announcement notes:

"The new measures will mean:

  • more training for bailiffs to stamp out cowboy practices
  • set qualifications to raise standards
  • a powerful independent regulator."

Eagle is reported a saying:

"People have a right to recover their debts, but no-one should have the right to threaten, bully or intimidate people just to collect cash they are owed. Regulation of bailiffs is an important part of protecting householders in disputes over debts and fines and will ensure only licensed agents are able to enter a property. These rules will raise the level of professionalism among bailiffs by ensuring they are trained and know their legal limits. It will also ensure the public is protected by a properly regulated sector."

The Eagle announcement goes on to note: "The plans are announced in the response to the consultation paper 'Regulation of Enforcement Agents', published today. This document recommends that bailiffs in England and Wales should be regulated by one body, the Security Industry Authority. The responses show agreement on the need for a statutory body to regulate the bailiff profession. It would deliver better value for money, set one standard for the industry and one set of training competencies leading to set qualifications. Respondents also said that regulation would provide safeguards to ensure debtors rights were not violated. The report also confirms:

  • We will need to look in detail at the different complaints procedures.  This will not be a role for the SIA. 
  • A commitment to ensure that there is a common set of standards and a common system across the enforcement industry necessary to regulate Crown employees.
  • Enforcement agent powers are covered by the Tribunals, Courts and Enforcement Act 2007. Extended powers of entry will not be brought in to force until the statutory regulation of the industry is in place."
This is an interesting development in the area of personal insolvency law regulation.

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