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31.05.2018

Killed By My Debt

BBC Three’s harrowing story of Jerome Rogers, a twenty-year-old from Croydon, who hung himself after his bike was clamped by bailiffs, has led to charities calling for an independent regulator to be established to regulate enforcement officers, also known as bailiffs.

Jerome’s Story

The hard hitting, fact-based drama, tells the story of how Jerome Rogers, who was a self-employed bike courier for CitySprint, acquired two traffic offence tickets from Croydon Council, one for entering a bus lane minutes after it had closed and the second for an illegal right turn.

After Jerome failed to pay the two £65 tickets, they were passed to Newlyn’s enforcement agency for recovery and soon spiralled out of control, with over £1,000 eventually being owed. When his bike was eventually clamped, which Jerome required to earn a living, he took his own life in local woods where he played as a child. The drama, which is still available to watch on the BBC iPlayer, raises many issues that are affecting numerous people in modern Britain today.

Firstly there is the issue of how cash strapped local authorities are increasingly looking to vehicle owners as a source of additional revenue, using traffic cameras and automated processes.

Second, there is the issue of how two £65 fines (totalling £130), can quickly spiral out of control to over £1,000.

Then there is the issue of zero-hour contracts and the gig economy, which meant Jerome, who was a self-employed courier, some weeks earned as little as £18 after deductions were made by CitySprint for his uniform and other equipment.

Why were bailiffs able to clamp Jerome’s vehicle?

The current law in England and Wales is that bailiffs cannot take vehicles, tools or computer equipment that are required for your job or for study, up to a total value of £1,350.  Jerome’s family have now obtained a valuation from Honda to show his motorcycle was only worth £400 (which meant it should have been protected by law).  Newlyn’s, however, obtained a valuation showing the vehicle was worth between £1,500 and £2,000.

The bike was essential for Jerome to earn a living and, therefore, should have been protected.  However, by clamping it the bailiffs essentially denied him the means to earn a living, and, therefore, of repaying the debt that he owed.

The bailiffs also initially refused to enter into a repayment arrangement with Jerome and then when they did, demanded £128 per week, despite him having no obvious means of being able to make such high payments.

Questions also need to be asked why protections that exist in some parts of the UK, such as Scotland, don’t apply across the UK, where vehicles with a value of less than £3,000 are exempt from seizure by sheriff officers (the Scottish equivalent to bailiffs), providing a reasonable requirement for the vehicle can be shown.

In the drama, Killed by my Debt, Jerome is also seen applying for payday loans after the bailiff’s first clamped his vehicle and refused to remove the clamp until such time he was able to pay off the first traffic offence debt, forcing him into an ever worsening spiral of debt.

It’s clear the current protections are unsatisfactory and allow bailiffs to hold people’s vehicles for ransom, forcing panic payments, even when there is a question over whether the vehicle legally should have been clamped in the first place or whether it should have been protected.

Unfortunately, Jerome Rogers became just another statistic until the BBC drama was shown. In 2015, the year Jerome took his life, the Samaritans reported 6,188 people took their own lives across the UK, with male suicides being three times higher than females suicides.

Solutions to your debt problems

In Scotland, for example, where sheriff officers attach a vehicle that should have been protected, it is possible to apply to the courts for the attachment to be removed, whilst in England and Wales, it is possible to ask that the courts to suspend a warrant of control that bailiffs use to seize vehicles once a court order is granted.

However, although in Scotland the process for doing this can be done for free, in England and Wales court fees may be payable unless it is possible to show hardship.

The important thing, however, is to remember that there are options and solutions for dealing with debts, even traffic offences, and people need to seek advice.  They can also speak with organisations like the Samaritans about how they are feeling on 116 123.

If you are struggling with debts, even if bailiffs or sheriff officers have visited you, call Creditfix and speak with one of our friendly advisers on 0808 2085 198