Friday, May 14, 2010

Bailiff powers of forced entry

Before the General Election, David Cameron vowed to repeal a range of 'Big Brother' laws, including the controversial use of force by bailiffs. The repeal should include not just the power of forced entry to premises and to restrain people, contained in the Tribunals, Courts & Enforcement Act 2007, but also the forced entry provisions for fine enforcement slipped into the final stages of the Domestic Violence, Crime & Victims Act 2004.

Although statistics imply that this power is used only about once every two months, it is a power that rarely has to be used. As a matter of 'good' practice, bailiffs daily explain to people that unless they let them in, forced entry will be undertaken with police support. Who could fail to cooperate in the face of such persuasion? It is a stain on our civil liberties.

As the forced entry provision was going through Parliament, Labour Ministers were clear that it would be used only against people convicted of a crime. They didn't mention that they included crimes like truancy and failing to buy a TV licence; they didn't mention that they would be used against the families of those who committed these 'crimes'.

The new Government should turn back the clock so that fines are once again civil debts owed to the State, and restore the principle that all bailiffs must act peacefully against property and people.


Anonymous Dave H said...

Part of the problem with many of these laws is that they were poorly drafted and failed to precisely define the circumstances under which they could be used. The terrorism stop-and-search facility is a bit vague, and Iceland found out that some of our money-related laws are similarly broad in interpretation.

It's surprising the number of people who do have right of access to the home without a court order. Some are not unreasonable where there's a safety issue, but a whole bunch of council officials have powers of access for trivial things and all of that should be better controlled. I believe that a member of the Lords is going to try for a bill to do something about all this access and once more make an Englishman's home his castle (is breaking down the door a devolved issue for Scotland and Wales?)

As for ministers making it clear that powers would only be used in certain circumstances, if that's what they intend, why didn't they write it into the bill? I think that it's part of the job of the Lords to challenge such assertions and push through amendments to bills to make them match what the minister said. After all, if that's how it's intended to be used then there's no harm in being explicit about it and why would the minister object?

There's a lot of bad legislation that needs to be repealed or corrected, let's hope that the new government does a good and timely job of it.

9:43 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yes, I agree. There's a ton of authoritarian just plain bad laws to be repealed. Let's hope that the Coalition government is on it.


4:48 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well done for your continued stance on bailiff regulation. I have had dealings with these people on one occasion (despite a debt being fully paid), and found them to use a mixture of intimidation, outright lies, and a refusal to contact the creditor, when I pointed out the debt was settled, and they had no right of access.

Legislation can't some soon enough. Good to see there is still a voice of common sense in Parliament!

4:11 pm  
Anonymous John Q Criminal said...

We moved house a couple of years ago. A while ago we started getting threatening letters through our door from a bailiff firm, stating they would enter and search our property by force if necessary, and remove goods. We didn't know what it was about, but found out that it was for an unpaid TV licence fine from our previous address that we didn't know about until the aforementioned bailiffs letters.

We have always paid our licence by direct debit, but at the time of the 'offence' (an exact date which strangely is undetermined) we were suffering financial difficulties and our DD had not been paid - we didn't even really think about it at that time as we had a lot of other important things on our minds.

The fine, as it turned out was for £250 but the bailiff was demanding £525 which, on principle we have refused to pay. We contacted the court and paid them the £250 direct. Two weeks later the £250 was returned to us as we are apparently required to pay the bailiff NOT the court.

Now, the court cannot apparently enforce bailiff fees, only the fine. However, as the court won't accept the payment, we are forced to pay the bailiffs, and of course, they won't pay the court until they have taken their £275 'charges', so the fine will remain outstanding until we have paid £525.

Now we are being threatened with "arrest on sight" and "attendance with a locksmith to force entry and remove goods whether we are there or not".

My wife is afraid to be in the house on her own and every time we return home from work our pulse rate goes through the roof at the prospect of coming in to find we have been broken into and our meagre belongings taken. Belongings which frankly wouldn't pay the bailiffs petrol.

I only tell you this so that others may learn from my story and turn away from a life of crime.

The men who killed Stephen Lawrence may have got away with it, but God help them if they accidentally miss a few payments on their TV licence!

You got me bang to rights guv'nor... I 'old me 'ands up.... it's a fair cop.

And so, I am now a criminal... what planet have I landed on?

12:59 am  
Anonymous Fiona Howarth said...

I have experienced bailiffs myself for failure to pay parking fines, which are just illegal taxes by Councils anyway.

How can it be legal for a £30 parking ticket to become a £450 debt with the threat of my car being taken away for non-payment.

I also help clients who face a similar situation, but who aren't as assertive as I was with the bailiffs.

4:16 pm  

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