When are bailiffs appropriate?

Rachael Withers, Chief Operating Officer for BW Legal, has been discussing her thoughts on the latest article published by The Guardian, on the 10 September 2018, in respect of bailiffs and some new approaches by local authorities to the same.

I read with interest yesterday about how bailiffs are being perceived by the media. The headline read “Boot out the bailiffs – they’re a cruel, medieval way of collecting debt”. I read the article in full and saw a number of scathing remarks about the bailiff process and did not think that the opinion given was a fair reflection on the process.

The bailiff process is an important part of the debt recovery industry, but I do think it needs to be used at the right point and not just be the initial go to solution.

What is a Bailiff?

A bailiff has legal powers to collect a debt. They often collect on such items like County Court Judgments, council tax arrears, parking fines or child maintenance arrears. They have a legal right to visit your property and, if payment is not satisfied, to remove and sell your goods to clear down the balance due. There are different types of bailiffs and it’s important customers do speak to independent debt advice agencies to understand their rights if they are faced with such enforcement.

What about the current trends currently in the industry?

I’ve noticed that a number of local authorities are changing their stance in respect of their use of this type of enforcement and are using it as a last resort. I agree with them in this approach. There are a number of steps you should take first before looking at enforcement. It is crucial, when collecting debt, that the process is done fairly and that you understand a customer’s needs and circumstances before you knock on their door asking for payment of the full or part sums.

Treating Customers Fairly is a key principle laid down by the FCA. It’s something I am very keen on ensuring is ingrained in our business right from the top to the bottom. We are focussed on understanding the customer’s circumstances to find the best solution for them and our client. By utilising our contact centre, which boasts around 140 operatives, we’re able to speak to people on a human level and discuss how we can get them back on track. We also have a digital platform which allows us to speak to our customers on a webchat facility and for customers to fully manage their accounts through our sophisticated online customer portal. We recognise that not everyone wants to speak on a telephone call, and in this day and age, people find it easier and more convenient to discuss matters on such platforms. From this, we’re able to offer the same service as we would on a telephone call, and such a step, of engaging a customer before action, should be standard across our industry.

I do believe that engagement with customers, before any action being taken, is a key step in being ethical about debt recovery. Of course if such a step does not engage the customer, before action is taken, to talk to us about a way forward then we do work with our clients to select appropriate cases for litigation activity and then enforcement, bailiffs being one of the options available. Again it is important to note that prior written warning should be given to customers in the event of such action being required. I would add though that even after a claim or enforcement is issued, we are still focused on trying to contact the customer throughout the process to bring the matter to a conclusion.

Bristol recently became the second local authority, behind Hammersmith and Fulham, to commit to piloting ethical debt recovery and pledging to only use bailiffs as a last resort. As detailed above, I agree and note that there are a number of options open which creditors should consider utilising before considering such a step.

I do however believe that the bailiff process still holds an important place in the industry. It is not right for every case and it is important that you utilise such a service at the right point in the process, but without such enforcement options available then there will always are some persistent non payers, who often have the means to pay, that could result in putting other creditors and businesses at risk.


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