The mailbox of an apartment in the Slotermeer district of Amsterdam filled up on a Tuesday afternoon in May. Envelopes and advertising brochures are prominent. “This is a clear signal,” says court editor Bas Evers. He has a stack of papers in his hand. The resident has not paid a number of bills from the coffee roaster and should now receive what is called a recall. But according to the bailiff, the full mailbox says enough: The tenant has more debt, and there’s a good chance he can no longer pay the rent and now has a different home address.
There’s no point in stuffing papers into the hole anyway, Evers says. He will inform his client that litigation is likely to cost more money than it produces.
Bailiffs are playing less of a boogeyman than before for citizens who can’t pay their debts. In the past, the bailiff would go to confiscate things or to vacate the house, but about ten years ago the mission was: to prevent things from getting to that point. Often, the bailiff will think along with the debtor: What are the possible payment arrangements, for example, or could it help to contact debt counselors?
This is also evident from the recently published annual figures for the Royal Professional Association of Judicial Officers (KBvG). The number of activities performed by bailiffs, such as serving summons or capturing salary or benefits, has fallen sharply in the past five years: from 2.3 million to 1.6 million annually.
Non-custodians and unskilled
Nowadays, the professional group places more value on the distinction between the “unwilling and the unskilled”, says KBvG President Chris Baches. After the credit crunch of 2008, debt preparers saw that the pool with problem debt was growing. Since then, the sector has become more involved with the problem. Some people simply don’t want to pay. But bailiffs now have more insight into cases where paying doesn’t really work. They pay more attention to signs that indicate this, like the full mailbox at Slotermeer.
The bad image of bailiffs is mainly due to the book a personality By F. Bordewijk, Bas
The fact that nowadays citizens do not deal with bailiffs very often has something to do with the so-called digital confiscation record. This was introduced by the profession itself about six years ago. Bailiffs must now register if they have appropriated someone’s salary or benefits. If they are required to collect collection, they first check whether another facility has already been attached to the salary or benefit.
If this turns out to be the case, the bailiff will often decide there is no point in creating another engagement, Baches says. In this way, citizens are often prevented from indulging in debt.
Also read this article about bailiffs: One man’s fault is another man’s business model
This more moderate approach is necessary, among other things, because the social costs of eviction, for example, are very high, Baches says. Usually, the municipality has to pay for a hotel room for an evicted family and look for alternative accommodation. In addition, the police are sometimes present during the evacuation. Or become caring for young people with family. “Society indirectly contributes to this.”
Everyone thinks bailiffs are a terrible profession, says Bas Evers. Mainly because of the book a personality by the Dutch writer F. Bordewijk, he believes, in which one of the characters is a ruthless bailiff who abuses his power. “As a result, people still see an angry man in a long coat.”
Evers – in a long coat – sits in his car next to the chauffeur Hermann, who had driven him through Amsterdam West that afternoon so that he would have his hands free. Evers has been a bailiff for over thirty years. In the past, he would sometimes lock the door behind him after an annoying conversation, he says. But now he’s trying to be “vulnerable” by being less forced and smiling a lot.
“I once had to ‘kick’ an 85-year-old woman out of her house,” Evers says. “You stand there while all the things are being put out in the street. You do it with great indecision and it’s very frustrating.” Evers is pleased that such situations happen often.
The number drops sharply
The result of the more lenient working style, Evers says, is that there is less work to be done, and as a result, the number of bailiffs has fallen sharply in recent years. In 2017, there were still 796 bailiffs in the Netherlands. Today there are 631. The profession is aging rapidly. The vast majority are between the ages of 45 and 65. There are only twelve bailiffs between the ages of 20 and 30.
And this is while the number of people who have debts is expected to increase by KBvG in the near future. To accommodate companies during the corona pandemic, the Tax and Customs Administration has given them the option to pay payroll tax and sales tax later. Now that the Tax and Customs Administration will be collecting deferred payments, the number of bankruptcies will increase. KBvG Board Member Arjan Boiten: “People may lose their jobs and can no longer pay their rent or mortgage.” The number of people who have debt may also increase due to high inflation.
Chairman Chris Bakhis believes there will still be enough bailiffs for the coming years to handle a potential increase in the number of people with debt. “This increase will be gradual,” she says. “Parts of our work at some employers are also being digitized, such as salary capture or compensation, so that we need fewer people.”
Bailiff Evers wonders if there will be enough new bailiffs in the coming years. “Our profession doesn’t sound exciting,” he says. “I don’t think there are young people who dream of becoming a sheriff.”
A version of this article also appeared in the May 19, 2023 Journal.
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