The government has been accused of trampling on individual liberties by proposing wide-ranging new powers for bailiffs to break into homes and to use reasonable force against householders who try to protect their valuables.
Under the regulations, bailiffs for private firms would for the first time be given permission to restrain or pin down householders. They would also be able to force their way into homes to seize property to pay off debts, such as unpaid credit
card bills and loans.
The government, which wants to crack down on people who evade debts, says the new powers would be overseen by a robust industry watchdog. However, the laws are being criticised as the latest erosion of the rights of the householder in his own
These laws strip away tried and tested protections that make a person's home his castle, and which have stood for centuries, said Paul Nicolson, chairman of the Zacchaeus 2000 Trust, a London-based welfare charity. They could clearly
lead to violent confrontations and undermine fundamental liberties.
It emerged last week that Her Majesty's Courts Service has already handed out guidance to privately employed bailiffs, pointing out that under legislation passed in 2004 they can already break down doors as a last resort to collect court fines.
Some restraint should be exercised, according to the search and entry powers guidelines. If a person locks himself in their home, it might be reasonable to break open the door, but probably not to smash a hole in the wall, it
Details of the new guidelines were obtained under freedom of information laws. They say homes should not be broken into when nobody is in. Reasonable grounds for breaking down the door include the movement of a curtain, a radio being heard
or a figure being spotted inside which may be the offender.
Comment: A Big Mistake
29th December. From Alan
Fascinated to read the story about bailiffs being allowed to kick the door in. A few months ago, I came home to find a note from bailiffs through the door. Nothing to do with me, or indeed my address. My street name and number happen to be
duplicated in at least three suburbs of my largish town. The pillocks had come to the wrong "Umpteen, Something Street", evidently being unable to read the postcode.
If I'd been out and they had "suspected" the curtain had twitched, this new law could have meant I would have come home to a ransacked flat.
Bailiffs will not be allowed to force entry into people's homes on a first visit to collect debts, the government has announced.
The proposal had been considered as part of the Tribunals, Courts and Enforcement Act.
But the Ministry of Justice said such a change will not now be considered until the industry is regulated in 2012.
Currently most bailiffs can only force entry if they have been previously invited into the house by the debtor.
Speaking on BBC Radio 4's Money Box, Justice Minister Bridget Prentice said the decision was based partly on current economic circumstances: Secretary of State Jack Straw asked me last year to have a complete reassessment of the provisions of
the act given the current economic climate. We don't think they are appropriate at the moment.
The minister also felt that allowing stronger entry powers was inadvisable in the absence of the bailiff industry being properly regulated: The idea of someone entering your house to seize your goods is a very serious one and so it really is
important that we get everything set up with a proper regulatory authority.