Bailiffs see rising business as economic crisis bites

Bailiffs are one group who look like they are prospering from the recession. Their business of reclaiming debts from those who can not pay is going from strength to strength as Czechs continue buying even though their bank balances can not keep pace.

Photo illustrative: Štěpánka Budková,  Radio Prague International
One bailiff’s office has made headlines by reporting a 60 percent rise in seizures of goods or property to be sold to meet debts during the first half of the year compared with the same period in 2008.

That office in the central Moravian town of Přerov — one of the biggest in the country — says it’s carried out more than 16,000 seizures in the first half of the year and expects more than 32,000 for the entire year. That compares with 22,000 for the whole of 2008.

The Czech Chamber of Bailiffs, which represents bailiffs across the country, says this figure has been boosted by the office’s own massive publicity campaign to win business and it’s expansion. But it admits this year should be another one of strong growth. Jana Tvrdková is president of the chamber.

“We have signals from specific bailiffs’ offices, from judges and from big creditors such as banks and insurance offices, that the number of seizures is continuing to rise. But I would not dare to say that it will be by around 60 percent this year. It will certainly rise but at the moment we cannot say by how much. We expect there will be a few hundred thousand more proceedings.”

Statistics from the chamber show there were just over 554,000 seizures in 2008. That was a jump of around 20 percent compared with the previous year.

The figures make no distinction between actions against individuals and those against firms. But some regional offices say around 90 percent of cases are against individuals.

The number of seizures has been rising steadily since the current procedures were put in place in 2001. Then, the previously ineffective mechanism of judges office’s trying to reclaim debts was dumped. Instead, bailiffs were put at the centre of the proceedings and were allowed to work for a percentage of the debts recovered as an incentive to get things done.

The reasons why seizures are now becoming much more common are various. The recession, as the chamber’s Tvrdková admitted, is certainly one factor. With Czechs tempted to buy more and more on credit, losing a job can quickly sink someone into debt with ongoing regular payments to make but on much reduced income. Czech unemployment figures on Monday showed 8.4 percent of the active population were looking for jobs in July.

Companies during a crisis also tend to be much tougher and quicker to recoup debts against individuals and other firms than might be the case during better times.

There is also the ironical factor that the unrepeatable one-off bargains proclaimed during the recession – for example on cars and other goods – tempt more people into buying on credit without thinking that they might be the next casualty of the crisis.