BAILIFFS will be able to knock on debtors' doors once again from Monday as a temporary ban on home visits is lifted.
Emergency legislation introduced in England and Wales in April put a stop to home visits from bailiffs over fears they wouldn't follow social distancing rules.
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But from Monday, collectors will once again be able to approach debtors' homes over repayments for fines, traffic offences, unpaid council tax and other outstanding penalties.
A ban on landlords evicting tenants is also set to end at the start of next week, putting thousands of renters at risk of losing their homes.
Six million Brits are thought to have fallen behind on bills because of the coronavirus pandemic, according to Citizens Advice, with carers, key workers and those who are shielding being the hardest hit.
Around a fifth of those behind on payments have had to go without essentials, half of which have had to forego food.
Debt collectors: Know your rights
BAILIFFS are allowed to visit debtors' homes again from Monday August 24, 2020, following a temporary ban due to coronavirus.
Here are your rights, according to Citizens Advice:
- All bailiffs should send you a letter before they visit to check if you're vulnerable because of Covid-19.
- They should give you at least 30 days' notice if they are collecting debts owed to your council, court fines or child maintenance.
- They're not allowed to enter your home to take goods – they should only talk to you, collect money or give you documents.
- They must make sure they are social distancing.
- If you're vulnerable or in financial hardship caused by the pandemic they must refer you to debt advisers.
If you think debt collectors have broken the rules, or acted aggressively by issuing threats, intimidation, offensive language, or repeatedly visiting, texting or calling you then you should complain to the organisation you owe money to.
Lorraine Charlton, debt expert at Citizens Advice, said: "Complaining won’t cancel your original debt, but it can give you a chance to deal with it in a way that suits you."
The charity estimates that those who've sought help with debt since March this year will need two-and-a-half years on average to pay them back.
But the Civil Enforcement Association (CIVEA), a trade body that represents 90 per cent of the debt collector industry, said that it's unlikely that collectors will target these customers first as their cases won't have been processed by the courts yet.
It argues that those who have debts from before the pandemic lockdown, outstanding for five months or more, will be top of the list.
At the start of lockdown, many local authorities temporarily stopped enforcement visits as debt collectors weren't considered to be key workers.
But the government had to step in a month later to issue tougher regulation as some were continuing to take goods from people's homes.
Bailiffs normally have 12 months from an enforcement notice being issued to take goods and have to apply to the courts to seek an extension.
But under the emergency legislation, notices that had less than a month left on them during lockdown have been automatically extended by 12 months without needing court permission.
Those who fall into this category will need to carry on making the agreed payments.
If you can't afford to pay, you should contact the bailiff and the organisation you owe money to as they may be able to make rearrangements.
The CIVEA has launched Covid-19 training for members to take part in before making any post-lockdown visits.
Collectors must use effective PPE and observe social distancing. So far, 1,800 agents have undergone the training.
The trade body added that letters have been sent to those with overdue debts since the suspension to help identify those who are particularly vulnerable to the virus, such as those who are shielding.
In these cases, extra support will be provided by welfare teams and debtors will be referred to council support services.
But Citizens Advice is calling for extra financial support for households to reduce the pressure to repay debts.
"Protections put in place by the government, businesses and regulators have staved off the worst consequences of lockdown debt – so far," said Dame Gillian Guy of Citizens Advice.
"But with these measures beginning to end, millions will now face the repercussions."
She added: "Financial support for those who’ve fallen into debt must be prioritised to free them from the damaging consequences of long-term debt, and help strengthen the economic recovery."
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