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