Lucy Frazer – 2018 Statement on Enforcement Agents

Below is the text of the statement made by Lucy Frazer, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice, in the House of Commons on 26 November 2018.

The Secretary of State for Justice and I have launched a call for evidence on the implementation of reforms contained in the Tribunals, Courts and Enforcement Act 2007, introduced by the Government in 2014.

The Government are committed to ensuring that all enforcement agents (formerly known as bailiffs) treat debtors fairly and operate in a responsible and proportionate way. We also recognise that the enforcement of debt is necessary for both the economy and the justice system and that enforcement agents carry out a difficult role in often challenging circumstances. However, we have heard accounts of a minority of enforcement agents who use aggressive tactics and make people’s lives a misery. We are determined that such rogue practices should be stopped. To this end the Government will be actively examining the case for an independent regulator as part of the call for evidence.

The 2014 reforms aimed to provide protection to debtors from the aggressive pursuit of their debt from enforcement agents, while balancing this against the need for effective enforcement. They introduced a set of rules which detail what goods an enforcement agent can and cannot take, how and when they can enter premises and what fees they can charge. They introduced mandatory training and an enhanced court-based certification process for enforcement agents. They also provided safeguards for vulnerable people so they are able to get assistance and advice, and required enforcement agents to be trained to recognise vulnerable people.

The information gathered from our call for evidence will inform the Ministry of Justice’s second post-implementation review of these reforms.

The Government published the first post-implementation review on 2 April 2018. They found that the reforms had led to many positive changes. This included improved transparency and consistency, both in terms of the enforcement process and the fees charged by enforcement agents. The report noted, however, that some enforcement agents were still perceived to be acting aggressively and not complying with the new rules.

The paper includes questions about the complaints process following concerns raised that debtors are experiencing difficulties in making complaints about ​enforcement agents. We want to improve our understanding about the volume and nature of complaints about enforcement agents and how they are handled. We are also seeking views about whether the regulations around complaints sanctions need to be improved and if so how.

The paper also asks questions about the implementation of the regulations concerning: safeguards to protect vulnerable debtors; the new training and certification process for civil enforcement agents; the requirement for enforcement agents to send standardised letters to debtors; and the regulations about the recovery of commercial rent arrears.

A key part of the 2014 reforms was the introduction of a fee structure which clearly sets out what a debtor can be charged at each stage of the enforcement action. The fee structure was designed to incentivise debtors to settle their debt at the earliest stage possible. The paper includes questions about the impact of those reforms.

The Government intend to complete the review of the implementation of the 2014 reforms before making a decision about whether further reform is necessary. Any prospective policy options will be presented in a public consultation.

The call for evidence will collect evidence about the operation of both High Court Enforcement Officers and civil enforcement agents (also known as certificated enforcement agents or private bailiffs).

It will run for 12 weeks to 17 February 2019.

A copy of the call for evidence will be placed in the Libraries of the House and will be available online at www.gov.uk.