On Wednesday 17 July, the APPG Debt and Personal Finance discussed the need for fundamental bailiff reform at a special event with the family of Jerome Rogers. The event preceded the BBC1 broadcast of ‘Killed by my Debt’, which tells Jerome’s tragic story.
Jerome’s mother and brother, Tracey and Nat Rogers attended the meeting to describe Jerome’s bailiff ordeal. In just a few short months, two road traffic fines of £65 had escalated to debts of over £1,000 with the involvement of bailiffs.
Tracey and Nat explained why they want independent regulation of both bailiffs and bailiff firms. Jerome had continuously asked to set up an affordable payment plan, but like many, his requests were refused. In Jerome’s case, bailiff administration and visit fees were levied twice, despite the fact the debts should have been treated as one. Moreover, the bailiff had clamped Jerome’s moped, despite it being a ‘tool of the trade’, and falling short of the £1,350 threshold value. Government guidelines were not being adequately enforced.
Joe Bullman, the director of ‘ Killed by my Debt’, and the film’s producer, Laura McCutheon, explained why Jerome’s story is so important. Councils passed more than 2.3 million debts to private bailiffs in 2017. With more and more people struggling to get by, uncontrolled bailiff practices are affecting a growing number of people. Four big firms make up 80% of the market, yet individual bailiffs are paid on commission basis. So from their point of view, bailiffs aren’t able to eat or pay their rent if they don’t collect fast. Joe and Laura were concerned about perverse incentives across the industry. They personally hoped that telling Jerome’s story would increase the pressure for much-needed change.
Sarah Jones MP has been championing the family’s cause and described the difficulties they’d had in trying to secure justice. Sarah said that the current bailiffs complaint process is incredibly complex to navigate. She spoke of the need for an independent regulator that covers bailiffs used by central, regional and local government. Some councils are moving away from using bailiffs and this should be encouraged. But fundamentally, MPs from all parties needed to come together with the Rogers family to campaign for independent regulation to stop cases like Jerome’s from ever happening again.
Matt Upton, representing the Taking Control coalition of 11 national advice organisations campaigning for bailiff reform, described the wider picture and how reforms meant to control aggressive bailiff behaviour have failed. The number of problems with bailiffs is on the increase, with Citizens Advice reporting a 25% increase since 2014. The systematic problems with the bailiff industry are helping no-one, not the state, not bailiffs, not councils and not individuals in debt. The Taking Control coalition believes the time has come for the Government to change its policy of allowing bailiffs to regulate themselves and to introduce a properly resourced independent regulator.
Yvonne Fovargue MP, Chair of the APPG, agreed there needs to be an independent regulator for bailiffs to stamp out the threats, intimidation and other bad behaviours that are all too common in the bailiff industry. Jerome’s case and the wider evidence from debt advice agencies shows why Ministers need to look afresh at proper controls. Yvonne said she would be working with colleagues after summer recess to secure a debate in Parliament on the issues. Fundamental reforms are needed and the scope of the Government’s forthcoming review must look at the need for an independent regulator, to ensure rules on bailiff behaviour are properly supervised and enforced.
Pictured (left to right): Sarah Jones MP; Nat Rogers; Tracey Rogers; Yvonne Fovargue MP; Matt Upton, Citizens Advice; Richard Lane, StepChange Debt Charity