A new era in enforcement

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On 6 April 2014 Part 3 of the Tribunals, Courts and Enforcement Act 2007 came into force. Amongst others things, this legislation aims to make the law surrounding Bailiff’s more straightforward and clear on what Bailiffs are entitled to do.

Previously the law had been built up and developed on a case by case basis. Now it is set out in legislation. This results in the position being unambiguous when it comes to Bailiffs enforcing Judgments.

Some of the practical changes are set out below.

Enforcement officers or certified bailiffs will now be called enforcement agents.

They will only be able to take control of goods if they are:

a. On premises they have the power to enter;
b. Goods belonging to the debtor;
c. Are not exempt goods; and
d. In England and Wales.

However if the debtor is a child or if the only person present in the premises at the time of the visit is a child and / or vulnerable person, the enforcement agent will not be able to proceed.

Under the old rules, the exemption of “tools of the trade” was relied upon by debtors to prevent items being taken away, however now there is a limit in that the value of goods over and above £1350 will not be exempt.

Other exempt goods include clothing, bedding, furniture, cooker or microwave, white goods and one telephone, essentially items to ensure the basic domestic needs of the debtor and every member of their household are met. Domestic pets are also now exempt.

One of the major changes is that debtors will now be given prior notice of the enforcement agents pending visit and the notice has to be given 7 clear days before they can attend. Further, when the visit does take place, it can not be made after 9pm or before 6am, except where the premises are not wholly residential. Ease of access has also been curtailed as open windows and skylights are no longer fair game. Entrance has to be made through a door or any other usual means of entry.

The fees that are recoverable from the debtor are set out clearly and are on a staged basis, in the hope that early co-operation will be obtained from the debtors to prevent fees escalating.

In conclusion, the new approach is a mixed bag for creditors. Whilst the cap on tools of the trade is an advantage, the notice that has to be given of the imminent arrival may encourage debtors to conceal goods.