Don’t help bailiffs help themselves
First Published 18 February 2016
People in debt need legal help, not threats, says Paul Nicolson.
People struggling with debt have more to fear now bailiffs can legally break in to their homes to enforce fines. These powers will be increased to enforce all debts and will allow bailiffs to use force against debtors.
One of my parishioners, Fred, got into debt when his local authority made a mistake with his benefits. The council started to evict him and sent bailiffs to recover the money. He had a nervous breakdown, lost his job and was hospitalised for three weeks. Fred’s difficulties led to his bank account becoming overdrawn and charges being imposed. It took months for the Ombudsman to persuade the bank to pay back more than £1,000 of penalties.
The bailiffs’ actions played a big part in worsening Fred’s plight. He felt threatened when they turned up on his doorstep. The only help he received was from a Zacchaeus 2000 Trust volunteer, with access to pro bono lawyers, who steered him through the problems that almost led him to becoming homeless.
The new Welfare Reform Bill is expected to introduce a single office through which all benefits can be applied for and all complaints channelled. But we fear it could pave the way for harsher treatment of people who have difficulty connecting with the benefit departments and the Jobcentre.
Help to get into work is to be welcomed. But, connecting the right to benefits with the responsibility to find work is based on policies in Europe, where the unemployment benefit of childless adults is 60 per cent of average earnings, compared to 40 per cent in the UK.
Citizens have a responsibility to find work. But so too does the government to ensure a minimum income in work or unemployment.
Rev Paul Nicolson is chairman of the Zacchaeus 2000 Trust.