Citizens Advice has warned that an unpaid credit card bill could soon be all the excuse a bailiff needs to break into a home and seize belongings, with the full blessing of the law.
If it becomes law, a new bill will extend to all bailiffs the power to forcibly enter domestic premises to enforce debts, including consumer credit debts.
Citizens Advice is pressing for regulation of bailiffs to be included in the bill.
It also wants clear safeguards to ensure that forcible entry is only used as a last resort and only where it can be shown that the debtor is not a vulnerable person and that non-payment is the result of wilful refusal or culpable neglect.
An analysis of 500 case reports from Citizens Advice Bureaux in England and Wales found that almost two thirds of bailiffs were guilty of harassment or intimidation and 40% misrepresented their powers of entry.
A quarter threatened debtors with imprisonment, and 42% charged excessive fees. In over half the cases, the debtor was vulnerable.
David Harker, chief executive of Citizens Advice says: Our evidence over many years shows that bailiffs have an appalling track record of abusing their existing powers against vulnerable people.
“They are often abusive and aggressive, and use threats of violence and prison to pressurise people into paying lump sums they cannot afford.
We are urging MPs to make sure the bill includes independent regulation to rein in the worst excesses of bailiff behaviour.
“It is vital that the bill also provides strong safeguards to ensure that forcible entry is only used as an absolute last resort, and only after the vulnerability of the debtor and their ability to make repayments have been taken into account.