Four years ago in 2014, Part 3 and Schedule 12 of the Tribunals, Courts and Enforcement Act 2007 (TCE 2007) came into force, supported by the new Taking Control of Goods Regulations 2013, the Taking Control of Goods Regulations (Fees) 2014 and the requirement for enforcement agents to undertake training and certification.
The Ministry of Justice started its one-year review of these changes in 2015 and published the results of the review on 2nd April 2018. The review included key stakeholders, including creditors, the advice sector, government agencies and the enforcement industry.
The report covers the aims of the new regulations, the results seen in the first year and the conclusions that have been drawn.
Aims of the regulations
A principal aim was to introduce transparency and consistency, simplifying the process for all (creditors, debtors and enforcement agents) and maintaining or improving the effectiveness of enforcement.
At the same time, there was a strong driver to tackle aggressive and unacceptable behaviour by a minority of enforcement agents, as well as provide protection for debtors, third parties and co-owners.
This was addressed by introducing clearer rules on dealing with vulnerable debtors, on what goods could be taken into control and on entry to premises. The regulations also provided a single fee structure, mandatory training and certification for all enforcement agents.
The regulations also intended to incentivise earlier recovery of debt via the compliance stage, which is when a notice of enforcement is sent to the debtor, giving them 7 days (excluding Sundays and bank holidays) in which to pay the debt in full to avoid further enforcement action.
Results of the review
The review has found that the regulations have provided a great deal of transparency and consistency, which was previously lacking. The standard forms and letters have helped with this, giving debtors information on where to go to seek advice. The report mentions that research by Step Change showed that 47% of their clients surveyed were prompted by enforcement action to seek debt advice.
In terms of the impact of training and tighter rules of process and standards, the review found that in 2015, when much of their research was undertaken, the reforms were still being bedded in, so the full impact was difficult to measure.
Justice Minister, Lucy Frazer, states that “the majority of bailiffs act professionally and within the rules.”
However, the government has decided it will shortly be launching a call for evidence regarding aggressive behaviour by a minority of bailiffs. It is disappointing that they feel there is a need for this, but it is good that they acknowledge this only applies to a minority. We anticipate that this minority might be even smaller now, four years down the line.
In terms of earlier recovery of debt, the Ministry of Justice had initially estimated that High Court Enforcement Officers (HCEOs) would obtain payment of 1% total of writs issued at the compliance stage, but this has been far exceeded, with 10% being recovered at compliance stage, enabling creditors to be paid more quickly and debtors to avoid further fees.
The review concludes that many aspects of the reforms were still bedding in at the one-year point in 2015. One of their areas of focus was to assess whether there were any major unintended consequences of the reforms.
Once consequence that is mentioned in the report is the growth in the number of online sources providing “advice” which is often misleading or even incorrect, leading to additional enforcement stages in some cases. Some of these sites are encouraging debtors to make false complaints and claims, with a few even advocating aggressive behaviour towards enforcement agents.
Their conclusion was that no changes are required at this stage as a result of unintended consequences. We would suggest that action is required against these sites that are misleading debtors.
You can view the PDF of the full report below.
One year review bailiff reform
David is an authorised High Court Enforcement Officer and our Director of Corporate Governance