MPs are urging the government to introduce new regulation for bailiffs to stop them breaking the law and provide better protection for vulnerable families.
A new report by the Parliamentary Justice Committee is calling for tougher standards in the debt collection industry that could require bailiffs to wear bodycams.
It describes the existing system of individual certification of enforcement agents by the courts as a “rubber-stamping exercise”.
The committee warns that the current complaints system is fragmented and hard to navigate for vulnerable people.
It recommends the introduction of an independent complaints body able to stop unfit enforcement agents or companies from practising as well as making body-worn cameras mandatory for all enforcement agents visiting homes and businesses.
The new regulator should also regularly review enforcement fees which debtors pay to make sure they are proportionate.
Chair of the Justice Committee, Bob Neill MP, says: "We held our inquiry to investigate the complaints about bailiffs recorded by debt advice charities and our report sits alongside the call for evidence conducted by the Ministry of Justice.
“While there are strong differences of opinion on the effectiveness of 2014 reforms to the enforcement industry, there is consensus that there is room for improvement in the way that complaints are handled. The system is confusing, particularly for the most vulnerable people in society. Complaints are important and must be investigated properly.
“We were surprised that no regulator is already in place. We're calling on the government to consult on whether new powers should sit with an existing body or a new one, and how it should be funded.”
Debt charities have reported a rise in bailiffs using intimidating behaviour in recent years.
Citizens Advice claims that 2.2 million people have been personally contacted by bailiffs in the last two years and that 39% of these - or 850,000 people - witnessed bailiffs break the rules.
Examples include bailiffs telling people that they can break into their house when they did not have the right to do that or threatening to take control of exempt goods such as essential household items.
Meanwhile, debt charity StepChange says that a quarter of people who had been visited by a bailiff tried to arrange repayment over the phone but found that the bailiff insisted on visiting their home to take payment, triggering the next stage of payment and increasing the debt by £235.
Gillian Guy, chief executive of Citizens Advice, says: “It’s excellent to see MPs from across all parties call for a regulator to crack down on the bailiff industry. They’ve also rightly called for a complaints process to be established so problems are dealt with independently of the bailiff industry and outside the court system.
“Bailiffs regularly break the rules, as our evidence has proved. In the past year we’ve seen a 16% increase in bailiff-related issues. All eyes will now be on the Ministry of Justice, which must introduce these reforms as a matter of urgency.”
Separatley, the government has pledged to improve the way council tax is collected and end aggressive enforcement tactics.
The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government says it will be consulting with charities, debt advice organisations and local authorities on changes to improve the current council tax collection system before considering further reforms later this year.