Improved protection of subsistence level for debtors

Minister Dekker (Legal Protection) is keen to prevent dead-end situations for people who are in debt. Even if their bank account is restrained, people should have enough money left over to buy food and pay the rent. Dekker: 'If people are unable to pay off their debts, creditors should be able to take measures in order to recover their money. However, this situation should not leave people facing a dead end and falling below the poverty line.' To this end, the minister has prepared a legislative proposal that has been sent to various bodies for consultation. This proposal dovetails with the government's efforts to reduce the number of problem debts and help people in debt more effectively.

Minister Dekker (Legal Protection) is keen to prevent dead-end situations for people who are in debt. Even if their bank account is restrained, people should have enough money left over to buy food and pay the rent. Dekker: 'If people are unable to pay off their debts, creditors should be able to take measures in order to recover their money. However, this situation should not leave people facing a dead end and falling below the poverty line.' To this end, the minister has prepared a legislative proposal that has been sent to various bodies for consultation. This proposal dovetails with the government's efforts to reduce the number of problem debts and help people in debt more effectively.

The minister proposes to allow debtors access to a small amount of their bank balance even if the account is restrained, so debtors can continue to support themselves. This 'protected earnings level' already applies to attachments of debtor earnings and social security benefits but not yet to attachments of bank balances. Dekker maintains that this state of affairs is undesirable, as debtors could rapidly end up in serious financial difficulties. This situation could happen if the debtor's bank account is restrained immediately after the payment of earnings or social security benefits, for instance, leaving them without any funds for living.

As an alternative, creditors can make an attachment against the debtor's movable property, such as their car or valuable household contents, based on a list of assets that can and cannot be seized. In this case, the attachment should not lead to unacceptable consequences either, so not all assets may be seized. The current list of assets that cannot be seized is outdated. According to the letter of the law, for example, a carton of milk cannot be seized. However, the fridge in which the milk is kept and the glass from which it is drunk can. By consequence, the rules have been amended and brought up to date.

Should it become time for a debtor's seized assets to be auctioned off, this procedure should happen in an efficient manner. For this reason, the minister proposes to allow auctioning off the assets on the Internet. This process would make it possible to reach a wider audience than at a traditional live auction. In addition, online auctions are more transparent, as everyone is able to follow the sales process. This situation could lead to increased earnings at lower costs. Houses (immovable property) are already auctioned off online.

The procedure for seizing motor vehicles and trailers will also change. In the current situation, bailiffs are required to go out and trace the vehicle in person. Whereas this procedure costs time and money, the vehicle's characteristics can be looked up easily by checking the National Vehicle and Driving Licence Registration Authority's vehicle registration system. To remedy this situation, the current legislative proposal provides that bailiffs no longer need to carry out a visual inspection of cars, motorcycles and mopeds in order to seize them, but that they can use the vehicle registration system instead. This change will make their job considerably easier.

Furthermore, Minister Dekker proposes that no attachment is made against a debtor if the costs can reasonably be expected to outweigh the benefits. In such an event, a forced sale would not yield sufficient funds. On the contrary, it would plunge the debtor into even greater debt, as all incidental costs are charged to the debtor. When used in this way, the attachment becomes a coercive measure that could lead to the debtor paying anyway, even if they do not have sufficient funds. This process could result in their inability to pay other creditors in turn.

In the coalition agreement, the signatories admit that existing legal procedures are complicated and sometimes unsuitable for solving the everyday problems of citizens. This insight has led to the announcement of a programme to improve civil procedural law. The objective of this programme is to make both dispute resolution by legal means and attachments as well as execution law more straightforward, quick, flexible and effective. The legislative proposal forms part of this programme.

Ministry responsible