Bailiffs 'breaking the law' to settle debts

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The Independent Online
PRIVATE bailiffs are running out of control, breaking the law and intimidating debtors, lawyers and consumer groups alleged yesterday, writes Nick Cohen.

Organisations as diverse as the charity for the homeless, Shelter, and the Money Advice Association called on local authorities to force bailiffs they hire to follow a national code of conduct.

The introduction of the poll tax led to a sharp rise in the number of cases of people having their goods seized by bailiffs. Between April 1990 and June 1991 magistrates issued 3.9 million liability orders against non-payers in England and Wales.

Recent statistics from the Lord Chancellor's department show that the number of debtors is not falling. If payment is not made after a liability order, bailiffs can be sent in to take possessions.

A report by the Public Law Project says that hundreds of thousands of poll tax non-payers have had visits from bailiffs. The result has been an upsurge in complaints to Citizens Advice Bureaux about abuses.

Bailiffs have no right to force entry into a house. But in cases collected by the advice agencies they are accused of failing to identify themselves, threatening to break open doors and claiming police backing.

Advice workers said that many people were going further into debt because the sale of their goods did not clear bills but forced them to take out new loans.