Sunday, 18 September 2011
Badly Behaving Bailiffs
Until 2002, people in Scotland suffered the indignity of knowing their homes could be forcibly entered and their personal effects removed and sold if they fell into debt and in some cases even if there was no debt. It was by the actions of the then Scottish Socialist leader Tommy Sheridan, that the anachronistic law was repealed so that poindings and warrants sales were no longer allowed in Scotland.
Around 80% of cases involving sheriff officers were to do with council tax debt. The past week I've been following this man's fight against bailiffs and their practices. (In Scotland, although commonly known as bailiffs, these individuals are officially known as sheriff officers or messengers-at-arms).
It's many years ago now since I had the misfortune of meeting sheriff officers. (They always appear in twos in Scotland, with one doing the verbal menacing and the other staying silent). They produced a summons which stated I had not paid council tax for several months - a completely false accusation. I was fortunate enough that day to contact a legal friend, who arrived here within half an hour to the startling sight of two sheriff officers and three policemen (called by the sheriff officers because I refused them admittance). After showing my friend the relevant bank statements, he spoke on my behalf and eventually the five uninvited individuals left my property.
An exhausting and distressing few weeks followed - aside from the financial cost - to counteract the council's claim, but finally they admitted there had been an error; possibly due to a fault in their 'new' computerised system my lawyer was informed. No apology was given.
That Saturday was the day I lost respect for the police who sided with the sheriff officers and weren't prepared to listen to me. It was also the day I realised how valuable my father's advice was: 'Always keep records of any money you spend no matter how small'.
The experience taught me what little power we have as individuals against the state. In fact we have none. Sheriff officers in Scotland, along with others such as utility companies, can still gain admission to your home with or without your permission, although debt procedure has been tightened since the introduction of the Debt Arrangement and Attachment (Scotland) Act 2002.
To fully understand the legislation requires a legal mind, but nowadays there is plenty help available online for anyone having problems with debt or debt collectors. Debt collectors who act illegally - as 'my' bullies did - need to be exposed. The only way that will happen is if the stigma associated with debt is removed and the police do what they're employed to do and that is protect the individual.