The aim of the project is to provide an empirical foundation for a comprehensive understanding of the position of bailiffs vis-à-vis public bodies within the justice system in Wales.
To achieve the well-being goals under the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015, public bodies must maximise their revenue-raising potential, which creates a tension between the structural dimension of public value whereby the well-being of the general public is enhanced through investment and the individual dimension whereby individuals vulnerable on account of their physical or mental health, or socio-economic circumstances, are protected.
This tension is particularly acute in the context of civil enforcement. Where routine requests for payment fail, public bodies will employ bailiffs to collect the debts owed. Bailiffs are thus the personnel within the civil justice system who meet debtors in their home. A recent report by StepChange highlighted that 50% of their clients in England and Wales visited by a bailiff claimed they were treated unfairly and, significantly, 51% of bailiff action was to enforce public authority debts. Debt advice charities campaign for reform, emphasising the links between bailiff action and poverty, and the risks to vulnerable debtors. This area of law and practice lacks transparency, and there is a dearth of independent empirical evidence on which to base reform.
From one perspective, bailiffs act as the operational arm of public bodies who make debt collecting decisions in relation to vulnerable individuals. However, arguably they should be characterised as representing the justice system, and thus tasked with well-being obligations, including the protection of vulnerable individuals. This characterisation has significant implications for the regulatory framework for enforcement, and should be factored into proposals for a Welsh jurisdiction.