Observations with Richard Beecham - Bailiffs beware (and keep away from the fridge)

“You no longer sleep in a child-sized bed?!”

Wednesday, 16th April 2014, 2:00 pm

So asked a flabbergasted colleague working at a desk not a million miles from my own. For I have finally succumbed to pressure from friends, family and back-muscles and invested in a rather expensive bed.

Having just turned 27, I – along with my housemates – made a concerted pledge to become more domesticated this year. Out went the canned-food diets and Persil liquitabs in the sink, and in came the modern marvels that are the fridge and the washing machine.

And last week, I invested a shocking amount of money in a brand new array of wooden planks, screws and spongy foam, replacing the “temporary” (10 months) narrow minefield of tired springs, leg-shaped valleys and spasm-inducing fabric rhombuses.

We have “house-things”, and it feels good. We are normal, functioning members of the human race, and nobody can say any different. Look at our fridge. It has bacon and cabbage in it. So does yours.

It was during a bout of this appliance-fuelled wave of hysteria that I heard something interesting regarding people’s powers to keep hold of their own white goods.

Bailiffs have now been given tougher rules in which to operate. The incumbent government, so keen to present a hard-line approach to Britain’s problems have taken the uncharacteristic step of telling bailiffs to “lay off, yeah?”.

The laws around debt-collection have now been clarified, telling bailiffs they can no longer use excessive force when coming into someone’s house to settle a debt, and items such as washing machines, fridges and computers are now classed as “essentials” and cannot be confiscated (hurrah!).

I happened upon a debate on the topic on BBC Radio 2’s utterly bonkers topical debate/rock-out Jeremy Vine Show last week. What struck me as unusual was how the debate was framed.

“If you can’t pay for something, you shouldn’t buy it,” barked one irate text. While many others complained about the difficult jobs bailiffs have under the new rules.

I am not for one minute suggesting bailiffs have it easy, or are bullies, as the work that they do must be trying at the best of times. But at no point during the debate did anyone suggest that – just maybe – an individual’s debt could be the fault of the people who lent the money or credit in the first place.

Post-Benefits Street, the British public’s derision of people-poorer-than-themselves seems to have peaked beyond all recognition, at least if you believe comments sections on popular news websites. Everyone has less than they used to. And we now need someone to blame.

But why are people losing their widescreen tellies in the first place?

Debt charity Stepchange said the number of people coming to it for help with a payday loan in the first six months of 2013 was almost as much as it was for the whole of 2012, and warned the number of people with five or more payday loans continues to increase rapidly.

One popular payday loans company charges a typical APR of 5853 per cent. Whichever way you put this, it is diabolical state of affairs. And with daytime TV churning out adverts, usually involving handclaps, ukuleles and a friendly-sounding south-eastern sounding men talking you through it, is it any wonder people with nothing are finding themselves with even less? It’s effective carrot-dangling. Only to demand two carrots before the end of the month, or someone’s going to be in big trouble.

In a country where desperate people are taking out loans to pay off other loans, more regulation of this industry (which last week finally came under the remit of the Financial Conduct Authority) is a welcome change.

So for now just console yourself with the fact you can enjoy chilled drinks and Youtube clips of cats on turntables in peace.

Just don’t answer the door.