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Bailiffs threatened to take vulnerable mum’s children away in harrowing case of rule-breaking

PUBLISHED: 14:22 19 November 2018 | UPDATED: 15:55 19 November 2018

Picture: Martin Keene/PA Wire

Picture: Martin Keene/PA Wire

Ipswich Citizens Advice revealed the shocking case of the mother, who had depression and anxiety after giving birth, in a bid to call for new laws to crack down on debt collectors who flout the rules.

Ipswich Citizens Advice deputy manager Nelleke van Helfteren. Picture: LUCY TAYLORIpswich Citizens Advice deputy manager Nelleke van Helfteren. Picture: LUCY TAYLOR

The charity, which provides free and confidential advice to people with money and legal problems, said it had helped 196 people in the past two years dealing with bailiffs for debts such as council tax arrears, parking fines and magistrates’ court fines.

Nelleke van Helfteren, deputy manager of Citizens Advice Ipswich, said: “We’re not saying bailiffs shouldn’t exist.

“If people don’t pay their bills, it is important they are chased for that.”

But she said the organisation is noticing increasing numbers of cases of bailiffs breaking the rules such as by threatening a break-in, taking items they are not entitled to and unsympathetic treatment of someone with an illness for disability.

Ipswich Citizens Advice deputy manager Nelleke van Helfteren. Picture: LUCY TAYLORIpswich Citizens Advice deputy manager Nelleke van Helfteren. Picture: LUCY TAYLOR

That, she said, is leading some to make “difficult choices” between paying a bailiff, feeding their families or heating their homes.

One of the worst cases highlighted by Citizens Advice Ipswich was a mother with depression and anxiety after giving birth who was in arrears with her council tax.

The bailiff refused to consider a payment arrangement and told her that if she did not pay up, she would be arrested and her children taken into care.

This caused the person’s mental health to deteriorate further.

“It was dreadful for the person involved and very frightening,” said Ms van Helfteren.

“I wish I could say it was unusual. Increasingly bailiffs are being used to collect small amounts of money.

“What we want is clear regulation for bailiffs.

“There are clear ways in which people can be protected against malpractice but, at the moment, the regulation of bailiffs is not strong enough.

“There’s a very clear link between indebtedness and mental health. We want bailiffs to understand the difference between the people who can’t pay and the people who won’t pay, or the people who can’t pay now.”

However she said organisations using bailiffs should also be sensitive about the people they are targeting and not send a debt collector if someone is genuinely vulnerable.

Nicky Willshere, chief executive of Citizens Advice Ipswich, said: “The government must step in and regulate the industry to prevent people suffering at the hands of bailiffs who flout the rules.

“It beggars belief an industry that can cause so much damage is not properly policed by a regulator.

“We see first-hand the widespread harm the actions of bailiffs and the companies they work for inflict on people and their families. It must stop.

“The evidence is clear, the Ministry of Justice has no option but to establish an independent bailiff regulator.”

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