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MoJ to press ahead with bailiff reforms

20 February 2012

The Ministry of Justice has announced that the government is to press on with wholesale reform of the laws involving bailiffs and seizure of goods.

Many of the measures proposed are contained in the Tribunals, Courts and Enforcement Act 2007, which has not been implemented. They would include abolishing the landlord’s common law right to distrain for rent arrears and introducing a new requirement to give the tenant notice before taking charge of goods.

Justice minister Jonathan Djanogly said: “Too many people have experienced intrusive, expensive and stressful bailiff action and more often than not the public do not hold bailiffs in high regard, despite the fact most bailiffs carry out their work professionally.

“We want to restore balance to the system, improve clarity for both debtors and creditors, strengthen protection for vulnerable people and ensure that individuals, business and government are able to collect the debts they are owed – but in a way that is fair and regulated by law.”

MoJ officials said in a consultation paper published on Friday that action by bailiffs was “by its very nature” intrusive.

“It is necessary for a bailiff to be assertive and firm if they are to be effective,” they said. “There is anecdotal evidence that some bailiffs may veer towards aggression in pursuit of effectiveness. It is these elements we need to address.”

Officials said “unacceptable behaviour” by bailiffs included misrepresenting their legal authority, charging excessive fees and unnecessary use of force.

They said these problems could be improved by implementation of the 2007 Act, which would clarify the law, introduce a clear and transparent fee structure and a regulatory regime, with training for bailiffs and a complaints process.

Implementation of paragraph 7 of schedule 12 to the Act would also mean that debtors must be given notice of enforcement action in all cases, not just in some.

Officials said this would give debtors “one last chance” to pay the debt before enforcement agents arrived to take control of the goods.

Following the close of the consultation, on 14 May 2012, the MoJ said it would publish its response later this year.

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Landlord & Tenant