Can there really be a world without the ‘hired muscle’ bailiffs provide?

What do you think of when you hear the word ‘bailiff’? For many, the first image is a pretty common one; someone big and broad, often scary, coming to take something away.

What can get lost in that often-aggressive visage is that a lot of bailiffs are just ordinary people trying to do their jobs. It’s easy to see why bailiffs are looked down upon though; stories such as one addressed by Laura Whateley in the Times in May are sadly all too common.

Someone who had withheld their name wrote to Laura recounting how bailiffs had scared them into paying for a fine that wasn’t theirs, and was actually a lodger’s. One of their lodgers had a debt that they were unaware of, which was being deducted from their benefits.

Once the lodger had found casual work, coming off benefits, the payments stopped and a bailiff arrived. With the lodger having no money or goods worth seizing, they threatened to take the property owner’s belongings.

The lodger demanded to see receipts for their goods – most of which were inherited from parents with no proof of purchase. Such was the fright the 60-year-old was experiencing, they felt they had no choice but to pay their lodger’s £820 debt without recompense.

The company who sent the bailiff refused to refund them also because the payment was ‘voluntary’, despite being threatened having their goods seized. The experience has left them frightened, and too scared to look for another lodger.

Laura, in her response ascertained that the bailiff was working on behalf of the government for an unpaid TV licence. Sadly, stories like this are all too common at the moment – statistics show that councils used bailiffs 1.4 million times to collect council tax in 2016-2017, and are using them as the first point of contact to enforce other debts such as parking fines.

Bristol City Council, though, is changing tack. It, alongside Hammersmith and Fulham Council, are phasing out “hired muscle” in the form of bailiffs and will instead use them in the “bare minimum” of cases.

It’s personal for Deputy Mayor Craig Cheney. “I grew up in a family where we struggled at times” he explains. “I’ve hidden under the window ledge while the bailiffs hammered on my window with my family and I well know what it feels like to have that accruing debt.”

Until all councils follow suit though, thousands of people will be living under the torment of hired muscle in the form of bailiffs, not all of whom are as reasonable or patient as Bristol’s Deputy Mayor.

You have rights when bailiffs come knocking on your door. Get to know what they are and are not allowed to do, entirely free of charge, by contacting Get Bailiff Advice now.

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