National Standards for Enforcement Agents: Update
Today (13th January 2012) the Justice Minister, Jonathan Djanogly, unveiled the updated National Standards for Enforcement Agents which defines acceptable behaviour for bailiffs.
The Standards set a guidance to ensure that people are safe and protected from rogue collection agents, whilst at the same time ensuring that genuine debt collectors can still collect debts and continue trading.
Additions to National Standards for Enforcement Agents address intimidation and threatening behaviour, and to prevent bailiffs misrepresenting their powers.
Justice Minister, Jonathan Djanogly, said:
'Bailiffs are an important part of the justice system so the few unscrupulous bailiffs must be stopped from putting people in harm’s way or taking advantage of the vulnerable. We want to bring an end to the rogue behaviour that can make people’s lives a misery.
'Whilst I know the majority of bailiffs are responsible, too many are not. We often hear stories, and see evidence, of people being mistreated by heavy-handed bailiffs. We are working with the bailiff industry, and other groups, to make sure that cannot happen anymore, but also that people can still collect their debts fairly.
'What we have announced today is the first step towards tackling this issue, which will be followed shortly by proposals for a new regulatory regime.'
Read the new National Standards for Enforcement Agents here (opens in PDF).
National Standards For Enforcement Agents
A review of bailiff law resulted in a Green Paper in July 2001, 'Towards Effective Enforcement'. A White Paper and legislation have however not followed, and expectations are now that the may not do so for some time.
The National Standards for Enforcement Agents (NSEA) has however been put into place, taking up some points from the review of bailiff law.
The NSEA is endorsed by a range of central and local government departments and the bailiffs' trade bodies, all of whose members should comply with it.
Enforcement agents should:
Carry out their duties in a professional, calm and dignified manner. This includes dressing appropriately and acting with discretion and fairness.
They must not misrepresent their powers or abilities, or discriminate on grounds of gender, sexual, orientation, age, ethnicity, race or religion.
Produce identification and authorisation on request.
Communicate clearly and provide information (on charges, etc.) promptly.
Have arrangements for translation services and provision of information in large print, braille, etc.
Provide procedures for identifying and dealing fairly with vulnerable debtors such as people who are elderly, disabled, those who have been bereaved recently, lone parents, pregnant women, unemployed people, people with language difficulties.
The conduct of levies:
'Unlawful force' should not be used to enter any premises.
If the police are called to deal with a breach of the peace, their presence must be explained including that they are not there to help with the levy.
If the only person present is, or appears to be, under 18, the agent must depart, but may ask when the debtor will be home. If the only persons at home are children under the age of 12, the agent must simply leave.
Bailiffs should avoid, so far as is practicable, disclosing the purpose of their visit to anyone who is not the debtor. Relevant documents should be left in a sealed envelope addressed to her/him.
Visits should ideally only be made between 6am and 9pm (or any time that the debtor is conducting business). Visits should not take place on Sundays, Bank Holidays, Good Friday or Christmas Day, unless legislation or a court permits this. Respect for other religions and cultures should be upheld, and visits avoided on appropriate festivals and holidays.
Goods that are clearly those of a child should not be seized.
Bailiffs should take all reasonable steps to satisfy themselves that the value of goods seized is proportional to the debt and charges owing.
When goods are removed, receipts should be given to the debtor.
Debtors must be notified of fees on each visit and of the fees that will be incurred if further action takes place.
Copies of the NSEA should be available from the offices of the agencies, from the agents on request and if possible from the creditors themselves.
There are no sanctions for non-compliance with NSEA but agents are required to operate complaints and disciplinary procedures.