THOUSANDS of struggling families across East Lancashire have new protection against bailiffs.

A law change, which came into force yesterday, means debt collectors can no longer use physical force against debtors, or enter premises at night.

Other changes mean they can no longer enter homes when only children are present, and will not be able to take household essentials, such as washing machines or ovens.

As the Lancashire Telegraph exclusively reported last month, almost 5,000 families in Blackburn and Darwen faced a visit from bailiffs over unpaid council tax last year – nearly 2,000 more than the year before.

And in Burnley, more than 2,500 struggling families had a rap on the door – up 40 per cent from the previous year.

The changes were welcomed by the Citizens’ Advice Bureau, but they said the measures didn’t go far enough.

Chief executive Gillian Guy said: “For too long, bailiffs have been getting away with aggressive behaviour and charging for visits they don’t make.

“People have reported bailiffs giving debt letters to their children and also threatening violence.

“These new rules reflect just how out of control the industry is.

“We’d like to see a licensing system that means firms are struck off if bailiffs break the rules.”

Coun Andy Kay, who is executive member for resources at Blackburn with Darwen Council, said: “The council is fully aware of the changes to the bailiff regulations as are the bailiff companies it uses.

“Any company employed by the council in the collection and recovery of council tax and business rates arrears will be measured against the highest standards.”

The rules will also see the introduction of fixed fees, ending the ability of bailiffs to add excessive charge.

Hyndburn and Haslingden MP Graham Jones added: “I have had several cases where I have had to deal with bailiffs who, through being over-zealous, have not acted within the regulations.

“And I have had to resolve some heart-breaking cases.”