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The Bristol Cable

This mum and carer was forced to pay 311 times more than the debt she owed.

Part of our campaign calling on the council to stop using bailiffs

no to bailiffs, a cross through a fist knocking on a doorRead more from this campaign.

Jade is a 27-year-old mum of two from Knowle and a full-time carer for her wheelchair-bound nan. Last winter, like thousands of us, Jade got landed with a parking ticket. She duly paid the fine to Bristol City Council and got on with her life. However, a simple and innocent mistake landed Jade in a shocking and expensive situation.

“Months and months later, I had a knock at the door in the morning,” Jade tells me sitting in her nan and grandpa’s living room in Kingswood. “I came downstairs to find a letter on the floor. A bailiff’s letter. I opened the door to find a bailiff putting a clamp on my car and blocking it in the drive with his.”

Jade was shocked. “I said ‘What’s this about? I paid it’. He just said ‘no, it’s a pound short’.”

“I must of paid a pound short without realising when doing the bank transfer,” Jade tells me, “but the bailiff was so arrogant. As soon as I approached him he was so rude. I said ‘can I just give you the pound?’ He said ‘No, you have to pay me £311’.”

“I felt distress, frustration, anger, a lot of emotions. Why all of this over such a small amount of money?”

The extra £310 is the fees bailiffs add to the original debt within seven days of receiving orders from Bristol City Council to enforce a debt. In short, the bailiff was demanding fees worth 311 times more than the original debt.

Jade was flustered. She was due at her nan’s house in 45 mins and the bailiff was demanding payment in full and on the spot. “He said if I didn’t pay all of it by 10:30am my car would be taken. I explained to him that I needed my car as I’m a carer for my nan, who’s had an amputation, and I needed to be there for her. He didn’t care at all.”

“And my little girl was there, and it’s not good for her to see me crying and upset.”

At this point, knowing that Jade was a carer and a mother with a child present, the bailiff should have put a stop to the enforcement and identified Jade as a vulnerable individual. The lasting impact of bailiffs on children is well documented by the Children’s Society.

According to the council, if an individual is identified as vulnerable, the bailiffs should report this to the council and call off the enforcement to allow for evidence of the vulnerability to be submitted for assessment.

However, the entire responsibility to identify, report and assess evidence of vulnerability lies with the bailiffs themselves.

The flaws in this set-up seem to play out in the stats. According to council data obtained by the Cable, between April 2017 and April 2018, the council asked Marston Holdings bailiffs to enforce parking fines over 21,000 times. Of these, Marstons Holdings reported vulnerabilities to the council less than 2% of the time.

“I explained to him that I needed my car as I’m a carer for my nan, who’s had an amputation, and I needed to be there for her. He didn’t care at all”

And so, the bailiff carried on with the enforcement. “I went inside to speak to a debt advisor, but time was ticking and I felt like I had to pay it – with two young children and caring for my nan, my car is everything.”

In a panic Jade paid £250 on the spot and promised to pay the rest later that day. The bailiff left, threatening to come back tomorrow if the rest wasn’t paid by the end of the day.

“I felt distress, frustration, anger, a lot of emotions. Why all of this over such a small amount of money? And the way the bailiff was behaving was so bad. Really a horrible situation for me.”

At this point Jade’s grandpa chips in. “It just seems to me the whole thing is ridiculous. If I had been the bailiff, I would have just put the pound in for her. It’s just unreasonable.” he said.

Jade continues: “When you’re in debt in the first place, you’re in a vulnerable place, so to put all that extra stress and debt on top is just …” she tails off, clearly distressed at the memory.

She didn’t call the council that day. Having dealt with bailiffs before she knows that the council can’t and won’t intervene in the enforcement once a debt has been passed on to a bailiff company. A council source confirmed this to the Cable.

“The fact that it was a pound… I couldn’t believe it. But the bailiffs don’t care what the debt is, it’s the council’s not theirs. They’re going to get the extra fees on top, whatever happens. Straight into their pocket.” In this case 311 times more than the debt she owed, £310 of which goes to the bailiffs and £1 to the council who instructed them.

Jade’s letter from the bailiffs

The Cable asked the bailiff company, Marstons Holdings, whether the application of £310 fees to a debt of £1 was appropriate, and on what basis payment plans would be offered.

A spokesperson for the company said: “We can confirm that enforcement fees, set by statute, were applied in accordance with the regulations, and that payment plans may be made available to customers depending on their circumstances.”

Even though she paid the fees, for Jade the experience is still with her. “Now I’m worried i’m going to get another knock.”

Like tens of thousands of other across the city who fall behind, Jade may well get another knock, unless and until the council changes the way it collects debts.

Help us #bootoutbailiffs by sharing this investigation with your friends, family, your local councillor, and the mayor.

If you want to contribute to this campaign by sharing your story or expertise then get in touch at adam@thebristolcable.org,
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Comments

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  • Mario says:

    I been in this situation and is horrible specially when the bailiffs are putting ridicule amount of money and you can’t even discuss with them as a are very rude unprofessional behaviour

  • Colin says:

    Just so you know, there is a bunch a bailiff lovers currently trashing this article and calling Jade a liar. https://www.consumeractiongroup.co.uk/forum/showthread.php?486826-Ouch-Marstons-enforce-for-debt-of-%A31&p=5116709#post5116709

  • Roger Taylor says:

    I have a Group on MEWE called what debt I help folk with alleged debts

  • Colin says:

    Contributors on the Consumer Action Group are laughing and sniping at this story, calling Jade a liar. I’ve got the link if anyone wants it.

  • Richard Burton says:

    The real issue is why the council didn’t inform her of the £1 debt and ask her to pay it. Surely any organisation has to inform a debtor of the debt and any possible enforcement action before sending in the bailiffs?

  • Colin says:

    A sample quote from user ‘Bailiff Advice’ on the Consumer Action Group.

    “Just because Jade is a mother and her children are in the house does not mean that she is vulnerable.”

    They really enjoy trashing anyone who stands up to bailiffs on that forum.

  • James says:

    Reading the commentary from the poster Bailiff Advice, it does rather look as if this news article is a classic case of ‘Fake News’.

    If it was the case that Jade had settled this parking ticket with the Bristol City Council when she should have done and had paid a £1 too little, she would have then received a Charge Certificate. The debt would have increases slightly.

    Next, would be the Order for Recovery to advise Jade that Bristol City Council would be ‘registering the debt’ at the Traffic Enforcement Centre. A debt registration fee of £8 would be added to the debt increasing the amount owed to around £10 (not £1).

    Once the warrant is issued, it would have been passed to Marston’s to enforce. They would have sent a Notice of Enforcement to Jade. A compliance fee of £75 would have been added at that stage.

    It is clear as day, Jade had received a Notice of Enforcement, and PAID THE COUNCIL DIRECT. In doing so, she tried to avoid paying the compliance fee. Her intention was to only pay the amount of the parking ticket (minus the compliance fee). By a simple error, she paid £1 too little.

    As warrant could never be issued for £1. I would be surprised if the court system allowed registration of a debt for such a low amount. Nonetheless, a court registration fee of £8 would be added to the warrant.

    https://www.consumeractiongroup.co.uk/forum/showthread.php?486826-Ouch-Marstons-enforce-for-debt-of-%A31(1-Viewing)-nbsp

    • Nelson says:

      Sheila, it’s obvious this is you posting under a fake name of ‘James’. Your habit of using CAPITAL LETTERS for no reason reveals you.

      If what you say is true, can you explain why the bailiff was happy to be paid only £311? You suggest that the amount due would be more at that stage, yet the bailiff has decided not to collect the full amount? Why is that? Goodwill?

      You seem to have a real problem with anyone trying to avoid bailiff fees. Why is that? We all know what you did to avoid the bailiffs, don’t we?

  • bill says:

    The Consumer Action Group forum (bailiff help section) is not what it seems and the advice is generally not in the interest of anyone affected. You are likely to be getting advice from a bailiff firm which is obviously a conflict of interest.

  • Syd says:

    Looks like we can’t post links. I have some real eye-watering stories about the author of those CAG comments. Oh, and she will undoubtedly make an ‘official’ complaint to ‘senior managers’ about this story.

    • The Bristol Cable says:

      Articles with links to that forum were marked as spam accidentally, sorry about that. You can post links in the comments.

  • Nicol says:

    What happened to the Notice of Enforcement that should have been sent?

  • Jane says:

    There are two bailiffs and a High Court Enforcement Officer giving debt advice on Consumer Action Group. That is why Jade was discriminated.

    • Nelson says:

      Shocking, isn’t it? I know Chris Badger posts on there, do you know the others? The member ‘Bailiff Advice’ is Sheila Harding, a known bailiff sympathiser who I believe charges £45 to write an out of time statement, plus another £25 if they need extra ones. I read today that she recently charged a debtor £220 for 8 forms which were nothing more than copy and pastes. Apparantly each one was rejected as well.

  • Dodge says:

    That Sheila Harding who calls herself Bailiff Advice is one unhappy bunny complaining to Bristol Council about this news article.

  • colin says:

    Why don’t you actually read what was said on CAG
    I don’t see any laughing
    https://www.consumeractiongroup.co.uk/forum/showthread.php?486826-Ouch-Marstons-enforce-for-debt-of-%A31

    • Nelson says:

      Colin, no-one’s said they’re laughing. You’re obviously one of Sheila’s friends, probably Colin Potter, and another one who fails to read what’s written.

      Sheila is saying Jade is not being truthful. She complains that she’s tried to avoid bailiff fees. What’s wrong with that?

  • nick says:

    compalint wasnt about news article, it was that this site doent allow people to respond to comments made about them that are defamatory. Also if you had read what was posted proprly you would see that the comments that are labelled as “bailiff lovers” and liars are actually just comments about the legal correctness of the enforcement, somehting your contributors want to gloss over because it is an inconvenient truth. Claiming you are vulnerable after the event doesnt change the status of the debt, if the person was vulnerable then she should have made this clear to the council from the outset. there are many stages and hoops to jumpt through for the council enforecement before they bailiffs trun up to enforce and there was nothing to stop het from contacting the council and putting things on hold before the bailiffs made their second visit.
    Also to quote Jane there are experts advising on CAG but that doesnt equate to Jade being discriminated, it isnt a noun for starters. These people give their advice for free and peopel arent obliged to take it. If Jade has been reliant on the quality of advice given in the comments here I am not surprised she ended up in the mess she found herself in.
    Does this mean that the postes on CAG side with the bailiffs? No, the general opinion is that they are an outdated method of debt enforcement and this is echoed by those employed in this field who contribute. I’m sure that police officers dont think it is their duty to invent crime, they enforce the laws enacted by parliament and keep the peace. Have a go at your MP if you think that it is all wrong, they voted for the continuation of 12th century law when they ahd the opportunity to change things

    • Nelson says:

      Dodge, is that you? The illiterate ramblings certainly seem like yours. Either that or a blind monkey.

  • bill says:

    What is responsible about a government department (the MoJ) which argued the case that fees which private bailiff contractor firms are by law allowed to extort from householders struggling with their Council Tax payments should be increased by 600% so that they would not have to creatively invoice the debtor so as to rack up their fees?

    • Nelson says:

      Nothing has changed. There is no incentive for the bailiff to accept just the £75 compliance stage fee, so they engineer a visit ensuring they can add another £235. High Court bailiffs are even worse with many unlawfully charging all three of their stages at the first visit. One of the biggest culprits is Gary Brown of DCBL, although most at DCBL do the same.

      Oddly enough, Gary Brown contributes to a blog that Sheila has. As does a solicitor that works for Newlyn’s bailiffs, Peter Felton. Peter also contributes on CAG as fattyfelton. Sheila and Peter have a very close relationship where he passes sensitive client and case information to Sheila for her to post on CAG, information that always benefits the bailiffs. She firmly seeks any argument that will benefit the bailiffs, always arguing that a debtor has no choice but to pay their fees no matter what the circumstances.

      She is aided on CAG by Dodgeball, Ploddertom, Wonkeydonkey, Sgtbush, dx100uk, Andyorch and Colin11. None of them will ever argue against her even when she has been proven wrong. They all contribute to her blog.

  • aki says:

    If that is true why don’t you report them to their professional bodies?

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