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Enforcement action is necessary when a debtor fails to pay a debt or negotiate a reasonable instalment payment regime with the creditor. There are various debt enforcement methods, including instructing bailiffs to collect payment. A bailiff will collect payment of a proven debt by seizing the debtor’s goods and selling them at auction; using the sale proceeds to settle the debt and associated costs. This type of enforcement action is used to recover both criminal and civil debts.

It is generally recognised that the current law on bailiff debt enforcement by the seizure and sale of goods is complex, unclear and confusing. It is contained in numerous statutes, secondary legislation and common law and its language is archaic. This lack of clarity can result in some bailiffs misrepresenting their legal authority. The issue of aggressive bailiff action and the need to protect vulnerable people in society is frequently raised. This has led to a number of significant Government initiatives. In particular, Part 3 of the Tribunals Courts and Enforcement Act 2007 (TCEA 2007) provides for a new procedure, ‘taking control of goods’, to replace existing bailiff powers. However, Part 3 is not yet in force.

A consultation paper, ‘Transforming bailiff action’, was published on 17 February 2012. Amongst the issues addressed in this consultation were Government proposals to amend Part 3 of the TCEA 2007 in order to rectify some inadequacies. It is now the Government’s intention to use the Crime and Courts Bill [HL], which is currently progressing through Parliament, to give effect to these amendments. Once these changes are made, the Government will be able to bring Part 3 into force and with it a new framework for the regulation of bailiffs.

This note provides a summary of the problems identified with the current regulatory system for bailiffs and the background to bailiff reform. It also provides an outline of the Government’s proposed reforms as set out in its consultation paper, ‘Transforming bailiff action’. Importantly, it considers the new bailiff provisions embodied in ‘enforcement by taking control of goods’ in the Crime and Courts Bill, which seek to amend Part 3 and Schedule 12 of the TCEA 2007.

A second Library standard note provides an outline of the ‘Current regulation of bailiffs’, SN/HA/4103.

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