Sunday, April 08, 2012

They keep on charging

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Skulking behind its paywall, the Sunday Times today catches up with this blog, running a story on the illegality of bailiffs, a story which we ran in September last year, and Booker ran later the same month.

Better late than never, we might observe, as the piece author, Jonathan Ungoed-Thomas, tells us that "Britain's bailiffs are charging council taxpayers hundreds of pounds in unlawful and fabricated fees for unpaid fined and bills". He adds: "small debts are inflated into huge sums with the illegal charges they impose".

The paper's informant is that vile creature John Boast, who was outed in the "Exposure" television documentary last year, perpetrating exactly the illegal practice, about which. we have complained.

Boast, having been fired from Rossendales after the TV documentary, is alleging that "unlawful and excessive fees are rife". He goes on to say, "Most people do not understand the fees or how to complain and that is being utterly abused", then telling us: "I do not believe most of these charges could be justified in the courts".

Interestingly, Ungoed-Thomas then cites a case familiar to us - the battle between Peter Troy and Equita, which he finally won when the bailiff company backed off from a court case and "waived" their fees.

This turns out to be a standard ploy adopted by these thieves, one which enables them to evade police attention. As I found out, when the slime are challenged robustly, they invariably back off.

Less robust was Tim Ellis in another case cited by Ungoed-Thomas, who was dunned by the JBW Group for £834.44 for an unpaid congestion charge, with the threat of another £300 if he refused to pay. Ellis paid up, but is now challenging the costs.

A major part of the problem here is that people do pay up, when they don't need to. This is quite understandable when the bailiffs clamp a car, or tow it away, but too many people cough up merely on the back of threatening letters, which have no legal standing at all. But the biggest part of the problem is the local authorities who commission these thieves, knowing their activities are illegal yet doing absolutely nothing about it.

The behaviour of local authorities – and the police – in this context has completely changed my attitude to the law. "The law is the law and must be obeyed", is the classic mantra, but the reality is that the law is that which the authorities decide to enforce, and that which they decide to obey.

Since the authorities regard compliance as optional, we see no reason why we should not treat the law in exactly the same way. What is good for the goose is good for the gander, as they say.

Anyhow, we understand that the Sunday Times may return to this subject, and it will be interesting to see whether Ungoed-Thomas gets any further than we did. But, with a billion-pound industry at stake, it is going to take more than even a few articles in this august newspaper to achieve anything.

When crime pays so handsomely, and the police sit on their hands, the perpetrators are not going to give it up easily. They will keep on charging, as long as people are prepared to pay.