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Bailiff reforms may be based on a false premise, Institute warns

10 May 2012

The Institute of Credit Management (ICM) has expressed concerns over the Government’s consultation on Bailiff reform, and questioned whether the reforms being proposed are based on a false premise.   Glen Bullivant, Chair of the ICM’s Technical Committee, said that he was concerned at how the consultation was headlined as providing more protection against aggressive bailiffs, when the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) freely acknowledges that the premise is based on anecdotal evidence: “It is surprising that no quantitative or qualitative research has been carried out in order to uncover the true extent or nature of the perceived problem,” he says. Glen says that there is a very real danger that the way bailiffs are portrayed in the media and in television Soap storylines has heavily influenced the way Government is responding: “Of course there will be examples of behaviours that are not only unethical, but quite simply wrong, and we would welcome tighter regulation, but it is more about how regulations are applied. It is important that changes are based on empirical evidence and not just hearsay.”   Notwithstanding its concerns over the true extent of the problem, the ICM does believe that more could be done to protect the vulnerable, but that a strict definition of vulnerability is neither practical nor appropriate: “The Institute would favour the approach put forward by Andrew Hobley from the Local Government Ombudsman’s office,” Glen continues.   “He suggests that, instead of a strict definition, the concept of ‘vulnerability’ when applied to a debtor should be determined by answering some simple questions about the individual concerned. Firstly, one should ask whether the debtor has a disability or other vulnerability (mental or physical) that means that they are incapable of understanding the situation they are faced with or would be incapable of defending themselves properly in any proceedings that may arise as a result.   “Secondly, one should ask whether, even if the debtor could understand such proceedings, does he suffer from a vulnerability that would make that course of action wholly inappropriate anyway.”   The ICM has offered to join the Working Party being set up by Anne-Marie Goddard at the MoJ to cover gaps in the range of information available on DirectGov.