'Bullying bailiffs contributed to my son's suicide - we need to protect our most vulnerable'

Jerome Rogers who tragically lost his life in March 2016. Credit: Rogers family

Jerome Rogers, a quiet, sensitive young man with a dry and often mischievous sense of humour, had his whole life ahead of him; the 20-year-old was about to book a holiday with his girlfriend and had just started a new job as a courier driver, delivering blood and documents to hospitals around London on his beloved motorbike.

But two £65 fines for minor traffic violations sent Jerome's life into a rapid downward spiral.

Within months, the debt soared to more than £1,000 as he struggled to earn enough on his zero-hours contract and Jerome was soon being pursued by bailiffs.

Unwilling to confide in his supportive and loving family, Jerome became increasing consumed by the burden. Internet records revealed his desperation; each time he received a payment remainder by text, he would search for payday loans or information on suicide.

In what would turn out to be his final and most devastating visit, the bailiff seized Jerome’s motorbike - his only tool to earn an income and pay off the debt. He was the last person to see Jerome alive.

Jerome did not confide in his family and shouldered the financial burden. Credit: Rogers family

Later the same day, Jerome texted his girlfriend to say he loved her before walking out of the family home in Croydon, south London.

His older brother Nat found his body the following day, in the same spot in the woods where they used to play as children.

Jerome's harrowing story inspired an acclaimed BBC drama and prompted calls for urgent reform to the debt collection industry.

But two years on from her son’s death, his mother Tracey says little has changed.

She believes bailiffs are still using aggressive tactics to intimidate society's most vulnerable and - with mounting concern over the amount of young people engulfed in debt and the ongoing impact of the government's flagship Universal Credit welfare programme - the need for robust action is more urgent than ever.

"I don’t think it was ever about the money in the end [for Jerome], it was more about how he was made to feel about it by the bailiff: the intimidation, humiliation, bullying and feeling hounded," she told ITV News.

The coroner recorded a verdict of suicide at Jerome’s inquest before expressing concern at the tactics deployed by the debt enforcement company, including the firm’s failure to help Jerome set up an affordable repayment plan.

But the Rogers family were left “angry and frustrated” when the bailiff was deemed to have acted reasonably towards Jerome in their encounters.

Jerome became increasingly isolated and desperate as the debt soared. Credit: Rogers family

Tracey is now urging the government to take the issue more seriously and set up an independent regulator to monitor the behaviour of bailiffs.

Charities say government reforms introduced in 2014 to curb the aggressive practices of the industry have ultimately failed, arguing bailiffs are still "a law unto themselves” .

Citizens Advice and the debt charity StepChange claim tens of thousands of people contacted by a bailiff in the past two years have experienced intimidating behaviour, citing examples of families enduring forced entry into their homes or seeing goods needed for work being removed.

The impact, they say, is devastating, with the most vulnerable suffering mental health issues and having their money worries compounded.

"This is inflicting widespread harm on people and their families and it has to stop," Gillian Guy, chief executive of Citizens Advice, said.

“The 2014 reforms were well intentioned but sadly have had little effect on improving the behaviour of some bailiffs. Faced with the evidence we’ve put in front of them, the Ministry of Justice has no other option but to establish an independent bailiff regulator.”

Charities say government reforms to the bailiff industry have failed.

A Ministry of Justice spokesperson told ITV News that the government is considering further reforms.

The Civil Enforcement Association, which represents the industry, disputed the latest allegations reported by Citizens Advice and StepChange, defending bailiffs and accusing the debt charities of exaggerating figures and further fuelling “an emotionally-charged debate”.

“A visit by an enforcement agent is always the last resort,” Russell Hamblin-Boone, chief executive of the association, said.

In a personal message to those struggling with debt and living in daily dread of the latest knock on the door, Tracey said: "We are hoping that parents and young adults who have seen Jerome's story open a door to discuss financial problems that they find themselves in and realise that every situation is solvable just as long as you talk and get advice.

"If they can just see the devastating effect that it’s had on my family and Jerome's friends, they'll see it’s a loss that you never recover from."

  • If you or someone you know has been affected by debt problems, help is available here
  • If you are in distress or need some support, the Samaritans are available 24 hours a day on 116 123 or through their website