Instructing an enforcement agent (still commonly referred to as a bailiff) is one method of civil debt enforcement. Different enforcement agents are used to collect different types of unpaid debt on behalf of creditors (including local authorities, government departments and private individuals). Some enforcement agents are officers of the court, others are self-employed, some are employees of a private debt collection company.

In February 2012, the Government made a commitment to deliver protection against ‘rogue bailiffs’ who use ‘aggressive methods’ whilst ensuring debts could still be collected effectively. It delivered this commitment through the implementation of Part 3 of, and Schedule 12 to, the Tribunals, Courts and Enforcement Act 2007 (TCEA 2007) together with the implementation of three sets of underpinning regulations on 6 April 2014. In effect, the rules governing the regulation of bailiffs were completely overhauled.

The Ministry of Justice held a call for evidence (PDF) from 25 November 2018 to 17 February 2019 to inform its second post implementation review of the 2014 enforcement agent reforms introduced by the TCEA 2007. On 14 December 2018, the Justice Committee announced its own inquiry into the enforcement of debt by enforcement agents in England and Wales. The Committee’s report, Bailiffs: Enforcement of Debt, was published on 11 April 2019.

On 13 December 2022, the Government published its response to both the Ministry of Justice Call for Evidence and the Justice Committee’s report on bailiffs and debt enforcement.  The Government made a commitment to introduce new measures when parliamentary time allows (following a short consultation on the use of body-worn cameras and the use of sanctions).

This briefing provides an outline of the different types of enforcement agents and their regulation in England and Wales. It considers the Government’s recent proposals to tighten the regulation of bailiffs. Finally, it attempts to answer some of the most commonly asked questions about ‘bailiff action’.

It is important to stress that if an enforcement agent (bailiff) has already notified a debtor of their intention to visit their home, the debtor should seek proper legal advice as a matter of urgency. This paper (section 5) outlines possible sources of advice. A separate Library briefing, Legal help: where to go and how to pay (PDF), may also be helpful.

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