HOUSEHOLDS struggling with debts won’t have bailiffs knocking on their door during lockdown as new rules temporarily banning the practice have taken force.
The government has implemented emergency legislation in England and Wales to prevent the spread of coronavirus as it says it would be “very difficult” for bailiffs to follow social distancing measures.
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It follows local authorities temporarily banning enforcement visits last month, as debt collectors aren’t considered to be key workers.
The government says it’s had to take this step further to clarify the rules as some bailiffs were continuing to take goods from people’s homes despite the lockdown.
The suspension includes all collections of unpaid court fines, penalty charge notices, council tax, and non-domestic business rates.
In addition, where there’s less than one month left on an enforcement notice, these will be automatically extended for 12 months without bailiffs having to seek an extension from the courts.
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Bailiffs normally have 12 months from an enforcement notice being issued to take goods.
But the rules don’t apply to phone enforcement or to the collection of goods from businesses premises, and Citizens Advice, Money Advice Trust and StepChange Debt Charity warn that this could have an impact on vulnerable people during the crisis.
The charities are now calling on the government to offer three-month repayment holidays specifically on council tax.
They also want the government to suspend current rules where people become liable for the whole of their annual council tax bill after one missed payment, and to bring forward plans to launch independent regulation of the bailiff industry.
Money Advice Trust research shows that local authorities in England and Wales referred 2.6million debts to bailiffs in 2018/19, of which 1.4million were for council tax arrears.
Instead, households in England who get council tax support will see bills cut by £150 a year.
Joanna Elson, chief executive of the Money Advice Trust, said: “We are pleased that the government has now legislated to ensure that no more bailiff visits will take place for the immediate future.
“We now need to see further action for people who are struggling with council tax bills.”
A Ministry of Justice spokesperson said: “Our priority is to save lives and protect the NHS which is why we are banning enforcement visits from bailiffs at residential premises and on highways for the duration of this pandemic.
“We are pleased that the majority of firms have already taken this important step to ensure the safety of their staff and the wider public.”
It adds that it’s still reviewing the results of a consultation into an independent regulator for the sector.
Can’t Pay? We’ll Take It Away! bailiff Matthew Heighway collects debt on hit Channel 5 show