POLITICAL leaders at Swindon Council have welcomed the announcement of new laws to tackle aggressive bailiffs, which will be introduced next year in England and Wales.
Bailiffs will be banned from entering homes at night, or properties where only children are present, and will be stopped from using physical contact with people who owe money.
They will also no longer have free rein to fix their own fees, because set fee scales will be brought in.
There will be a set of simple rules detailing when a bailiff can enter a property, what they can take and a fee structure to end excessive charges.
Swindon Council voted in November to tighten control on bailiffs acting on its behalf after the Adver reported that a handful of debt collection firms were making a fortune, despite their tactics having been criticised for unfairly penalising the poor and vulnerable.
Coun David Renard, deputy council leader, said: “Everybody who pays their taxes expects other people in the community to also pay their taxes.
“It’s right that the council collects or seeks to collect everything that’s due. But clearly we have to be concerned if bailiffs are instructed – and of course they’re only instructed in the most extreme cases – and they don’t operate within the bounds of what most people would consider to be reasonable.
“So I welcome the Govern-ment’s proposals. And any bailiff firms that Swindon Council instructs, they have to abide by rules and regulations.”
Coun Des Moffatt (Lab, Rodbourne Cheney), who previously branded some of the bailiffs as gangsters, said he supported the new legislation, adding that the use of debt collectors would rise when benefits reforms came into force in April next year, meaning almost everyone would pay at least 20 per cent of their council tax bill.
Coun Moffatt, the Labour group’s finance lead, said: “Any tightening of the rules is to be welcomed but it’s never really the rules that concern me.
“What concerns me is the way the bailiffs behave, which quite often has little to do with the rules. It does help, but there wouldn’t be a problem anyway if bailiffs observed the rules.”
Coun Dave Wood (Lib Dem, Eastcott), the deputy Lib Dem group leader, said: “Any kind of control can be brought to bear with bailiffs, that would be a good thing for residents in the town.
“And certainly there was some instances towards the tail end of last year with residents talking about questionable activities from bailiffs running up to Christmas in my ward, so I think tighter rules that can be brought to bear would be beneficial.”