Debt’s to rise – warns expert

Debt’s to rise – warns expert

Debt’s to rise – warns expert

With a decade’s spendthrift culture severely curtailed thanks to the current credit crunch a top debt expert at the UK’s largest High Court Enforcement agency, Shergroup, is warning people not to ignore their rising bills.

Claire Sandbrook, chief executive of Shergroup, says the debt crisis is set to worsen following the squeeze on credit and her advice is if you are in financial trouble seek help immediately from organisations such as the Citizens Advice Bureau.

According to Government statistics, almost one per cent of the UK’s adult working population have been made bankrupt since the turn of the millennium.

Mrs Sandbrook says: “It’s not just people on modest incomes that fall into debt. People with much higher earning capacity can and will find themselves on the receiving end of enforcement action.”

Debt is an increasing fact of life with estimates that personal debt in this country has reached £1.3 trillion – larger than the UK’s Gross Domestic Product. It’s not just people suffering at home, companies are also feeling the pinch.

Mrs Sandbrook says: “Shergroup specialises in collecting business-to-business debts owed to its clients and we have seized assets such as high-performance cars, gold bars, the entire stock of a major sex shop, helicopters, jets and a herd of cows.”

“But increasingly we are seeing more and more debt from what we call the consumer sector with debtors in private houses failing to pay their debt.”

“When the debtor is based at home it is often going to be the family car, or the Plasma TV which is subject to enforcement action. Any item seized can be sold at auction to pay off the debt if a solution on payment cannot be found.”

High Court Enforcement officers (HCEOs), often referred to as ‘super bailiffs’ are strictly regulated and all know that should they step out of line they could find themselves in front of a High Court Judge and risk losing their licence.

But regulation is not uniform across the board and while County Court and Certificated Bailiffs are appointed by a District Judge, not all private bailiff firms act with a certificate to confirm they have reached the necessary level of understanding of the rules on enforcement. Debtors therefore need to understand their legal position.

Mrs Sandbrook says: “We desperately need a level playing field for ALL bailiffs in terms of compliance and standards. Bailiff companies need to raise their game and I’d like to see District Judges refusing to certify those that cannot reach the required standard of competence.”

“The public need to be given clear assurances that the people who are knocking on their front door have been in front of the judge and have satisfied the Court that they are responsible people who are willing to be scrutinised in how they operate.”

The Tribunals Courts and Enforcement Act will address the regulation of all private-sector bailiffs and in time will give new powers to force entry to residential premises in special circumstances and with prior judicial approval, once full independent regulation of all private-sector bailiffs has been implemented.

The Powers of Entry Bill, which is currently being debated will set out the criteria about what sorts of circumstances could give rise to this course of action.

But well before creditors reach for enforcement help, Mrs Sandbrook’s advice is simple: “Find out as much as you can about your debtors before giving credit. What and where are their assets, and above all, do they have the ability to pay.”