The behavior of some bailiffs is exacerbating people’s financial hardship, according to Citizens’ Advice, which calls for stronger regulation of the sector.
The charity said that with rising costs of living increasing the risk of people falling behind on bills, regulations for record companies should be put on a legal footing.
A YouGov survey commissioned by Citizens Advice asked people across England and Wales about their experiences with bailiffs.
Nearly half (49%) of those who said they contacted a debt bailiff said they experienced long-term financial consequences, such as difficulty managing debt, needing to obtain more credit and not being able to pay other bills because of bailiff fees.
The charity said three in four (72%) saw their mental health affected, for example, feeling unsafe in their own home, being afraid of answering the door and not wanting to leave the house.
Citizens Advice has also raised concerns about some behaviour, such as some bailiffs apparently not taking into account vulnerabilities such as disability or illness or taking goods needed for work reasons.
The charity highlighted the case of a man who lives with a partner and has a disabled child.
He had £90 in debt from a missed council tax payment and was put on a payment plan.
The man said he missed a payment in his plan because his child was taken to the hospital.
He was awoken before 6 am by a call from a usher who was outside his house.
Citizens Advice said the warden wanted nearly £500 extra for their visit, otherwise the man’s car, which had been pinned down, could have been removed.
The man told the charity: “In the end, I got someone with a bank card to pay the bailiff out of his car window. Once he had paid it, he got out of his car and removed the clamp.
“I suffer from PTSD and anxiety. It was a really bad day for me. I had to pay back the money I borrowed which left us unable to pay, so the other bills weren’t paid and we were left to rob Peter to pay Paul.”
More than 5,700 people participated in the survey.
Citizens Advice said it believed that with more people falling into debt and potentially subject to bailiffs’ action, the voluntary self-regulatory model could no longer meet the scale of the problem.
Dame Claire Moriarty, chief executive of Citizens Advice, said: “Rogue behavior makes things much worse for people who are in really difficult situations – and sometimes even pushes them into even more debt.
“The rules are set in place to try to ensure bailiffs act fairly to recover debts, but our advisors hear from people every day who are intimidated and harassed by bailiffs who break these rules.
“This cannot be allowed to continue… We need to step up government and ensure that the industry is held accountable for its actions through a legal regulatory body.”
A Department of Justice spokesperson said: “It is essential that vulnerable people in debt are protected and not harassed by fraudulent bailiffs, which is why we announced plans to make body-worn video cameras compulsory and supported the recently established Enforcement Conduct Council to improve private bailiffs accountability.
“We will review whether the board requires a legal rule after it has been in operation for two years.”
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