After a five-month hiatus, bailiff enforcement visits are now once again permitted in England and Wales, although there are a number of new conditions bailiffs must comply with, in recognition of the continuing health emergency.
From August 23, bailiffs in England and Wales were once again given the power to enter residential properties to collect goods in respect of debts owed. Bailiff visits had been suspended some five months earlier as the coronavirus pandemic took hold.
However, no bailiff should be visiting out of the blue in the current circumstances. One of the most important considerations is to check first if the customer is experiencing additional vulnerability or financial hardship as a result of Covid-19. Many bailiffs have made a voluntary commitment to take into account vulnerability or financial hardship caused by coronavirus and refer people to debt advisors in those circumstances.
Contact should also be made in advance of the visit to check that no one within the household is experiencing coronavirus symptoms or is self-isolating. If anyone is in this situation, the visit should be re-arranged.
Goods may not be seized if the debt concerns council tax or other debts owed to the council, child maintenance or court fines. In these circumstances, 30 days’ notice should be provided before a visit takes place, and when the meeting does happen, the bailiff can take money, conduct a conversation or hand over documents, but not walk away with any of the person’s possessions.
All bailiff visits should also be conducted in accordance with Government social distancing guidance, and bailiffs have even been asked to refrain from raising their voices, given the added risk of spreading the virus. Bailiffs should wear face coverings when inside the property.
Jane Tully, Director of External Affairs at debt charity the Money Advice Trust, said:
“We are relieved the government has put in place much-needed public health guidance for bailiffs to follow, but this only addresses some of the concerns that have been raised over the resumption of bailiff visits.”
“As households continue to struggle with the impact of Covid-19, the fact bailiffs can now resume visits risks making bad situations worse. The government should urgently introduce changes to the way council tax debts are collected, in particular, to reduce the use of bailiffs in the first place – and finally bring forward plans for an independent regulator for bailiffs and bailiff firms.”
“Bailiff reform is long overdue, and the outbreak of Covid-19 has brought the need for independent regulation of the bailiff industry into sharp focus. Without fundamental reform – and an independent regulator to make sure that guidance of the kind published on Friday is actually followed – households will remain at risk.”
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