Councils Warned to Take Responsibility of Bailiff Actions

January 23, 2013

Charlotte PearceUnexplained and excessive fees are just some of the issues raised following a report from the Local Government Ombudsman (LGO) into council appointed bailiffs.

The LGO issued a report warning councils to take responsibility for their appointed bailiffs and to ensure the correct handling of complaints.

While no individual councils have been named in this report it highlights cases that have resulted in serious injustices for individual debtors.

In one example a debtor was charged £405 for 3 unexplained fees. On further investigation the council involved found that the debtor had been severely overcharged by £300 plus VAT.

In other examples van fees have been charged for attending a property to remove goods, which they are entitled to do. In this case although the van fee was charged to the debtor the bailiffs had not entered the property or removed any goods.

Councils have been warned about their approach towards vulnerable debtors and have been told they must review the use of bailiffs if vulnerability is a potential issue.

‘Sometimes a bailiff may be the first person to realise the debtor is vulnerable. It is essential that bailiffs are alert to possible vulnerability and that they report any concerns back to the council’ said Dr Jane Martin, Ombudsman and Chair of the LGO.

The proportion of complaints relating to council appointed bailiffs is higher than those in other sectors including local taxation and parking enforcement.

The government issued a response which came from local government minister Brandon Lewis, who said ‘Councils equally need to show compassion towards the vulnerable and recognise individual cases of hardship’.

‘The use of bailiffs should also be a last resort, they should not be commissioned disproportionately and councils should take direct responsibility for them’.