Bailiffs should be regulated, says bishop

Bailiffs and debt collectors should be accountable and regulated, the Bishop of Lichfield has said.

Speaking in the House of Lords yesterday, the Right Reverend Jonathan Gledhill said that the behaviour of bailiffs could at times be intimidating.

He said that the current system of certifying county courts was failing to monitor the behaviour of individual bailiffs and that courts were without the power to redress complaints.

The bishop was speaking in support of Lady Meacher's amendment to the Crime and Courts Bill seeking to establish a statutory ombudsman for complaints about bailiffs. The amendment received majority support from peers, including the Bishops of Derby and Exeter.

"The recession and austerity have acquainted many citizens with bailiffs for the first time," said Bishop Gledhill.

"Most of us have had the infuriating experience of having our wheels clamped by a private company and of officials who then would not listen to reason.

"How much worse it must be to have one's personal possessions, or even one's home, taken away.

"It is vital that those authorised on our behalf to collect fines should be properly accountable and their behaviour regulated."

The bishop said that the Citizens Advice Bureau dealt with 250,000 problems related to private bailiffs this year, as he warned that some people were being "pushed into unpayable debt by bailiffs acting illegally".

"We must do all in our power to prevent vulnerable people being led to believe that the justice system in our country is all about the rich punishing the poor," he continued.

"The present system of certifying county courts fails to monitor individual bailiffs' behaviour; it is intimidating and costly for vulnerable people to bring complaints and there is no power for a court to award redress."

He echoed concerns raised by the Zacchaeus 2000 Trust about a link between debt and mental illness, and poverty and poor maternal nutrition.

"Of course, the courts must be supported and their penalties enforced but we do not want the ethos of the car clampers to be repeated in debt-collecting in our poorest boroughs," he said.

"The present system is widely perceived as unsatisfactory and toothless.

"A legal ombudsman would give debtors and the advice sector a proper remedy when bailiffs do not comply with the Wednesbury standards."