MPs Call for Body Worn Cameras to be made Mandatory for Bailiffs
In a new report published today, the Justice Committee have said that the Government should introduce a new regulation for the bailiff industry to ensure that people in debt are treated fairly. The report expresses surprise at the lack of regulation of the bailiff industry compared to other sectors.
Additionally, MPs have recommended that bailiffs should wear body-worn cameras when engaging with debtors:
“making body-worn cameras mandatory for all enforcement agents visiting homes and businesses […] would protect both the agent and debtor and help make it easier to investigate complaints.”
This move could have several benefits:
- Increasing transparency of behaviour of bailiffs towards debtors when seizing property to recover unpaid bills and fines
- Providing protection for bailiffs enforcing debts
- Praising overall standards of the debt recovery industry by providing better protection for all parties involved.
The Debt Collection Industry – A Call for Change
The report is critical of the debt collection industry, describing the existing system of individual certification of enforcement agents by the courts as a ‘rubber-stamping exercise’. It also suggested the need for a new regulator able stop unfit enforcement agents or companies from practicing, in turn raising the standards of the industry. The current complaints system is fragmented and difficult to properly monitor and manage. The recommendation is a separate complaints body (separate to the regulator) where all complaints about bailiffs (also called ‘enforcement agents’) can be escalated.
According to the Chair of the Justice Committee, Bob Neill:
“there is room for improvement in the way that complaints are handled. The system is confusing, particularly for the most vulnerable people in society. Complaints are important and must be investigated properly.”
The Chair went on to say that:
“Debt enforcement can have a real impact on people’s lives, so it is vital to ensure that the processes in place are fair and proportionate to all parties concerned.”
In fact, in England over 100,000 people a year who are burdened with heavy debt try to end their lives. Intimidating and threatening letters sent by debt collectors and bailiffs play some part in this. The incident of Jerome Rodgers in 2017 – a debt-ridden 20-year-old who took his life shortly after a bailiff visited his house over two £65 parking fines (resulting £1019 of debt) – sparked widespread debate and sweeping changes across the industry.
Body Worn Cameras – The Independent Witness
The House of Commons lauded body-worn cameras variously as crucial, invaluable and excellent advance. Already widely used by most of the UK police force with positive feedback, the Local Government & Social Care Ombudsman has reassuring advice for bailiffs:
The availability of body-worn video camera evidence means we can make a firm ruling on complaints about the behaviour of the bailiffs, as opposed to relying on the unsupported statements of the parties involved. We have, in the period under consideration, not found fault with the agent’s behaviour in any case where there was video camera evidence available
In summary, body worn cameras:
- Provide a source of evidence for all parties involved in an incident
- Improve the engagement between bailiffs and debtors
- Improve accountability by acting as an independent witness
- Improve the standards of the industry as whole