Archive for June, 2009

New Banking Code?

June 24, 2009

I assumed that the take over of the Banking Code by the Financial Services Authority (FSA) is going to make a much more useful regime, from the point of view of the debtor.

Now I am far less certain.

Catching up on material like the comments to the last review of the code, and comments on the FSA proposals, I find that the FSA proposals appear to change from the rule approach to a ‘principles-based’ one.

Now your guess is as good as mine as to what that means. Next month the FSA is to publish its proposals – for adoption in November. Do keep an eye open for these proposals.

The Citizen’s Advice Bureaux (CAB), for example, expresses great concern about the proposed changed of style and the fact that the enforcement will be even less than the limp penalties under the British Banking Association (BBA) regime.

CAB points out that the very ones who are most likely to suffer are the vulnerable, the very ones that any system of regulation is most vital to. And, boy!, what grand quagmires lie ahead for interpretation of principles.

The ordinary debtor already faces a seriously uphill struggle. The information most needed is obscure, the area is one they are not familiar with, and they face trained and professional takers backed by massive organisations who wear their legal departments like the six guns of a ‘black hat’ in western films.

The FSA, the FOS and the OFT are all supposed to be making that ‘playing field’ more level and refereed. With this change in prospect my fear is that the field will turn into a blood bath of the innocent. Just like Peterloo.

[Peterloo happened shortly after the Battle of Waterloo and named as a disgraceful mirror of that greatness. It happened on St Peter’s Field near Manchester in 1819. This peaceful meeting was demanding the reform of the parliamentary system – déjà vu!

The crowd of over 60,000 unarmed civilians was charged by cavalry. The whole history of the period was one of the two Britains; that of the industrial and agricultural owners and that of the ordinary people. At least Peterloo shamed the political leadership and reforms followed.

The great 1832 Reform Act was one and the introduction of a civilian police force another. The latter unarmed in response to the shame of Peterloo.]

Joseph Harris
Debt Control Man

Bailiff Power: “We have the balance wrong”

June 13, 2009

Every time I think I have reached the bottom of this government’s inanities over bailiffs I am apprised of further actions which make sense only if these people are in the pay of the financial casino.

Thanks again to the Zacchaeus 2000 Trust I have learned of the Bill introduced by Karen Buck M.P., (Labour for Regent’s Park and Kensington, North), a few days ago under the ten minute rule. It has gone now to second reading which is a triumph for her preparation work which has taken a year.

[Most often ten minute rule Bills are killed at birth!]

In her introductory remarks Ms Buck offers these points which are worth some thought by us all: Bailiffs (Repeals and Amendment) is the title of the Bill and it “… make requirements in respect of the use of force and forcible entry by bailiffs; to make provision for the reference to court of certain cases involving vulnerable clients; and for connected purposes.”

“… Debt and debt recovery action have become a reality for ever larger numbers… the arrival of a bailiff is, for many of those people, the ultimate trauma and humiliation… people have had heart attacks when the bailiffs have arrived. The mental and physical stress… is one of the worst things that will ever happen to them in their life.”

She points out that not all bailiffs fail to be as helpful as possible. But “… many.. are desperate and vulnerable people, and many are also victims of error. … even the actions of bailiffs who behave entirely reasonably… are disproportionate and excessive.”

“… it has become clear to me that we have got the balance wrong,… we need to review… We must certainly not, in any circumstances, think of escalating the powers available to bailiffs, and the Government should rethink their approach to regulation.” [my emphasis]

“… In my local authority alone, and in respect of just… council tax… more than 13,000 cases ended up in the hands of bailiffs over a three-year period.”

“What does it mean… It means fear and trauma for people, particularly children. I have heard of moving cases… children have refused to leave the house or have insisted on having the lights out at home because they are so frightened of a bailiff… seizing their television or computer.”

“… also means an escalation of the original debt, which simply compounds the problems that caused the financial crisis in the first place.”

“For one single parent with three children, one… disabled… (a) parking fine, about which I was making representations, had escalated from an original £60 to £700 by the time the bailiffs arrived.” [my emphasis]

In another “… two sets of bailiffs (were) chasing the same debt. Payments had been made to and acknowledged by the council, but did not then appear on the system.” [my emphasis] This lady wrote “… each party refers me to the other, the fees are ever increasing and.. threatening the removal of goods for the same amount.”

The Bill’s aims “.. are threefold. The power of forcible entry into a person’s home and the power for bailiffs even to use force against debtors are far too extreme to be given to civilian enforcement officers. The balance has been tilted too far against the householder’s right to be secure from trespass into their home. ” [my emphasis]

“… overturns a long-standing common law tradition,… in the Tribunals, Courts and Enforcement Act 2007… some p[owers] have not (yet) been brought into effect… such powers should be repealed.”

“… the power to enter domestic premises forcibly… for collection of criminal fines is already legal, and that too is creating appalling distress for many vulnerable households. Many… fines are levied on people on low incomes for offences such as the non-payment of TV licences, fare dodging and truancy.”

“… the issue here, too, is one of proportionality,… I also seek a statutory procedure requiring bailiffs to return cases involving vulnerable and impoverished debtors to the courts or the creditors, and powers to allow people subject to any bailiff action to apply to the courts for any bailiff warrant to be suspended… (this) is (currently) available only to people subject to county court bailiff warrants.”

“… case law, which holds that a distress warrant cannot be withdrawn once it has been issued. That directly contradicts the national standards for enforcement agents, which suggests a procedure enabling the bailiff to return cases of vulnerable fine defaulters to the court.”

“… disproportionate fines are being paid by benefit claimants and other low-income groups, intensifying the poverty that pushed many of them into debtY Finally, we need a statutory provision for bailiffs to accept ‘affordable payments’, with a definition of what that might mean in practice…”

“… I believe that they need greater protection, and above all, to be freed from the fear of the implementation of the excessively harsh powers held in reserve in the legislation.”

The Bill has six more stages; second and third reading in the Commons; first, second and third readings in the Lords; and signature by Her Majesty. It is only a pity that with this government tottering and the next election in any case but a year away the chances of it becoming law are slim.

But ‘good on yer’ Karen Black; you’re one we need back in the Commons. And keep it up Zacchaeus Trust; we need you.

Debt Control Man

Gordon Brown as Macbeth?

June 12, 2009

I had been seeing our most dear and revered Prime Minister as Gordon the Unready, for his parallels with Ethelread, who had a similar set of ups and downs and opened the way for William the Conqueror as his legacy to England, just as Gordon has opened us to the tyranny of generations of debt.

But it has suddenly struck me that he has far more in common with Macbeth, sometime King of Scotland, and particularly as portrayed by Shakespeare (in ‘The Scottish Play’).

Consider the line up.

Macbeth, Thane of Glamis – Gordon Brown
Coincidentally both are Scottish. When he becomes Thane of Cawdor (Chancellor of the Exchequer) his ambitions increase, and he eventually ‘kills’ the previous leader (Blair), and then becomes increasingly paranoid and obsessive.

Malcom and Banquo’s Ghost – Tony Blair
The previous leader, removed by the supplanter’s hand, is then the taunting ghost at the banquet.

Macduff – Caroline Flint or Alistair Darling or Peter (Lord) Mandelson
A friend, fellow Thane and general who finally dispatches Macbeth – offstage and therefore out of our sight.

At the end Macbeth claims no reason to fear Macduff, for he has been promised by the witches that he cannot be killed by any man born of woman. Macduff reveals he was “from his mother’s womb untimely ripp’d” (meaning born by Caesarean section) and was therefore not “of woman born”.

That may translate into a number of situations that fit the three ‘actors. In theory Peter Mandelson, as a member of the House of Lords, cannot assume the role of Prime Minister. But I think this is simply convention, following the moves 100 years ago to control the House of Lords by Lloyd George.

Hecate (Chief witch/Goddess of Witchcraft) – Peter [now Lord] Mandelson
At the famous cauldron [restaurant] meeting he tells Brown his time will come, though Malcolm (Blair) is the first chosen. He turns to Hecate again when things get tough.

Siward and Young Siward – various Tory Party leaders
The English forces [political opponents] that are defeated

The play is mainly about the plotting and deeds of Macbeth. The first focus is the killing of Malcolm, and the assumption of kingship by Macbeth but, despite his success, he is uneasy and first fears Banquo and organises an assassination, and at the feast with Banquo’s ghost there is the fearful sight of Macbeth in a rage.

Macbeth seeks the help of the witches again. He is told to “beware Macduff”, but also that “none of woman born shall harm Macbeth” and he will “never vanquish’d be until Great Wood to high shall come against him”. All things that seem to protect him.

But he becomes increasingly paranoid and obsessive, and yet certain of his invincibility.
Another proof that Shakespeare wrote for all time – and that those who do not understand history are doomed to repeat it! Here are a few quotes in which you might see resonance:

I am in blood
Stepp’d in so far, that, should I wade no more,
Returning were as tedious as go o’er.

–Macbeth, Act III, scene iv

Those he commands move only in command,
Nothing in love: now does he feel his title
Hang loose about him, like a giant’s robe
Upon a dwarfish thief.

–Angus, Act V, scene ii

Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing.

–Macbeth, Act V, scene v

© June 12 2009 Joseph Harris

Ah, satire; love it! 😉

Debt Control Man