Theresa May’s government has been accused of using the summer holidays to sneak out the privatisation of a highly sensitive part of the Ministry of Justice (MoJ). 150 enforcement officers. who are responsible for collecting court fines, were told that their jobs could be outsourced.
The Public and Commercial Services (PCS) union, meanwhile, has slated the decision. And it has accused the government of “trying to avoid scrutiny” by “sneaking” out the legislation in the summer holiday.
Bailiffs are used to enforcing court fines when they haven’t been paid. Presently, a quarter of fines are enforced by private companies. But the government now wants private companies to take over the whole system. According to the MoJ, this could save it £18m over the next five years.
Currently, staff at HM Courts and Tribunals Service are subject to the civil service code governing standards of behaviour. And the MoJ asserts that these standards will be applied to the private sector too. But PCS General Secretary Mark Serwotka believes privatisation is a cause for concern:
This work is highly sensitive and should remain in-house instead of being handed to private bailiffs whose motive is profit.
Bailiffs are a massive problem for poor and vulnerable people, whether they come from the courts or private companies. People already stretched – trying to make ends meet and pay fines – are slapped with additional costs each time a bailiff visits.
And the use of bailiffs has been soaring. In 2016 in London, there was a 51% increase in bailiff use in just twelve months. Much of this increase was to do with the Conservative government’s austerity agenda; and specifically, the changes introduced to council tax benefit.
In 2014, reforms were introduced over how bailiffs are supposed to behave. But critics report that bad practice hasn’t been eliminated. Joanna Elson, chief executive of the Money Advice Trust, said:
Concerns over the impact of the bailiff’s knock at the door have long been raised by debt advice charities, based on the experiences of our clients week in, week out.
Unfortunately, changes to the law in 2014 have failed to protect people in debt from poor practice, and we continue to see widespread problems with the behaviour of bailiffs and bailiff firms.
Privatising the whole of the court bailiff system is deeply worrying. Private companies desperate for profit are more likely to use strategies that target vulnerable people; many of whom are in this position because of the government’s crippling austerity agenda.
But the issue goes deeper. The whole system of using bailiffs – and charging people extortionate amounts of money when they are already struggling to make ends meet – needs to be, at the very least, radically overhauled.
– If you’re facing the threat of bailiffs, get help from the Citizens Advice Bureau.
Featured image via screengrab