When the bailiffs call
Posted Wednesday 16 December 2009
Debt, by its very nature, is stressful. You don’t have enough money for something, so you have to borrow some. You get into cyclical debt.
I know credit underpins our society and the modern economy, but there are a mind-boggling number of options out there and the number of newpaper articles and websites dedicated to giving people advice on how to juggle loans and credit cards clearly shows that we find credit a tricky area to navigate.
So imagine getting to the point where you have so many debts that they became unmanageable, that you just can’t make it all add up; that moment of realisation that the ends will not meet.
You receive your first red letter, a final demand, but you just don’t have the money, so maybe you tuck it away in a drawer. More red letters follow, they get tucked away, then a letter from the bailiffs. Why do they keep writing when you clearly don’t have the money?
Perhaps your creditor has sold your debt to a debt collection agency? How does that work? It soon becomes clear however when bailiffs start phoning, you now owe them the money. They call you, they write to you, they visit you, and they charge you for this ‘service’!
We have heard horror stories here at Mind about people being hounded by bailiffs who have called throughout the day, the evening and even on the weekend. Others report that when bailiffs come round they misrepresent their powers and are quite simply terrifying.
Recognising the connection between debt and mental health is not rocket science; money worries can both trigger and exacerbate mental distress. Last year at Mind we launched our In the red campaign and as part of this we’re calling for the regulation of bailiffs. The good news is there is movement on this front. The Government has committed to introducing independent regulation of the bailiff industry and is now taking this work forward.
But Mind still has concerns that the regulation may not be tough enough to stamp out bad practice.
The Ministry of Justice is handing regulation of the bailiff industry over to the Security Industry Association (SIA), the same body which keeps tabs on bouncers and wheel clampers. Mind is concerned that the SIA as it stands does not have sufficient powers to set rigorous standards, monitor compliance and take firm action against rogue bailiffs.
So what do we want? Well Mind is calling for the SIA to be granted new powers which would enable them to be the strong and proactive regulator (complete with teeth) which is needed for bailiffs. There also needs to be greater emphasis on mental health training and understanding within the debt collection industry.
Being in a situation of personal financial crisis can be devastatingly destructive to an individual’s mental health and sadly there have been many cases reported where a person has taken their own life because of their money problems.
The behaviour of debt collectors should not be allowed to compound a person’s distress, and we need the right regulation to protect the public from the tyrannical bullying which can potentially end in tragedy.
Mind is conducting a survey, which will inform our campaign, on the impact of contact with bailiffs on mental health. If you have had contact with bailiffs, please tell us about your experiences.
Vicki Prout, Mind media team
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