Monday, September 11, 2006

Bailiffs become Enforcement Agents

Give us the money, or the dog gets it!

One delight which is helping while away the weeks of the long recess is the 544 pages of the draft Tribunals, Courts and Enforcement Bill - http://www.dca.gov.uk/legist/tribenforce.htm - , published by the Department of Constitutional affairs on the 25th of July this year. Heavy going, and I find that I’m only able to tackle it in small chunks.

I am getting seriously worked up about the behaviour of bailiffs. Not that they have troubled me, yet, but I see a lot of them and their activities through my involvement with the London Motorists Action Group. It’s a particularly unpleasant effect of fining people for minor infringements, and allowing the people doing the fining to keep the fine, that defaulters are pursued as if they were malodorous foxes. And the huntsmen who are set upon them are bailiffs.

Just like foxhunting, it’s the weak that perish. Bullying, trickery, outright deception – nothing is too low for some bailiffs. Being two minutes late in collecting your car from a parking space, and being unequal to the rapacity of the system which will then track you down, can leave your facing two large and unhelpful young men demanding a mysteriously concocted £1000 with implied menaces. And now we have a bill that aims to make them even more powerful.

To celebrate the continued New Labour transition from the comfortable world we thought we knew to red in tooth and claw modernity, the quaint word “bailiff” is to be replaced by “enforcement agent”, and they will I expect be just as cold and ruthless as this phrase implies. Gone is the last pretence that an Englishman’s home is his castle: you will no longer be able to deny a bailiff entrance – an enforcement agent will be able to smash down the door and take what they want. Including the dog.

Powers like these ought to be very carefully controlled. And an enforcement agent who misbehaves ought to be in fear for his livelihood. People who just aren’t up to dealing with the system should find that it has a helpful and considerate face. The government knows that this is necessary – they admit as much in their introduction – they just have not got around to putting it into law, and seem content with a cobbling together of bits of the old system. It won’t do.

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