MDC defends use of under fire firm bailiffs

COUNCIL chiefs in Mansfield have defended their use of a firm of bailiffs despite undercover footage showing poor practice and bullying.

Shocking evidence of the lengths bailiffs go to in order to collect money from householders and car owners was revealed in a television documentary on Monday.

ITV’s Exposure went undercover to show a bailiff from Rossendales Collect adopting bullying methods, ignoring national guidelines and using racist language as he collected debts for a council in London.

Mansfield District Council is one of around 150 local authorities in the country which uses the company to collect Council Tax and business rates.

Civil liberties campaign group Big Brother Watch has used the Freedom of Information Act to highlight the number of councils using bailiffs.

Director Nick Pickles said: “Local authorities have a duty to ensure anyone acting on their behalf not only operates within the law but also respects the privacy of families and individuals.

“Time and time again bailiffs use underhand and bullying tactics – yet councils like Mansfield are using them at an alarming rate.

“Incidents like those highlighted in the programme are absolutely not one-off occurrences and Mansfield District Council needs to seriously question whether its use of bailiffs is doing more harm than good.”

Monday’s programme followed a bailiff formerly contracted by Rossendales as he visited debtors in Hounslow, west London.

He was repeatedly shown bullying people who owed money, breaking guidelines by visiting them at irregular hours of the day and using offensive, racist language.

Mick Andrews, head of finance, property and revenue services at Mansfield District Council, said the authority only used bailiffs as a last resort.

“Rossendales Collect was re-selected through a formal tendering process this year, along with another bailiff company, and both operate under a contract and agreed code of practice,” he said.

“Since the contract began, the council has had a good working relationship with this company.

“The council will only pass debts to the bailiff companies as a last resort, after other methods of collecting the debt have proved unsuccessful.

“The council also holds regular meetings with the local Citizens’ Advice Bureau to discuss recovery issues they have experienced; this includes bailiffs working for the council.”

Rossendales Ltd, based in Helmshore, Lancashire, has called for the introduction of legislation to bring clarity to the industry following the programme’s findings.

Julie Green-Jones, the company’s chairman, said the bailiff filmed had been sacked.

“We were stunned when we were informed about this and, following our own investigation, we had no hesitation in immediately terminating his contract.

“There are only currently guidelines for bailiffs to operate within, and while we have been calling for regulation and legislation for some years, we need action now.

“His actions certainly do not reflect Rossendales’ values and principles - he is totally at odds with how we work as a company.”

Rossendales, which was formed in 1972, dealt with more than 400,000 cases last year, recovering £92m for its clients.