System allows bailiffs to get away with rule breaking, says Citizens Advice
Bailiffs are not being held to account when they break the rules because the complaints system is complicated and intimidating, according to new research from Citizens Advice.
Figures obtained by Citizens Advice from the Ministry of Justice show just 56 complaints were made through a court-based process introduced as part of the bailiff reforms in 2014.
In the report - The Rules of Enforcement - released today, Citizens Advice also reveals 72% of people who experience a bailiff breaking the rules do not complain at all.
Interviews with advisers and people who have sought help from Citizens Advice shows people do not complain because:
- It is unclear how to make a complaint
- The pressure of bailiff enforcement action puts people off complaining
- There is a lack of faith in the process
Previous research from the national charity revealed bailiffs broke the rules 850,000 times in the past two years. The lack of an effective complaints system means bailiffs are not held to account.
The report is released on the same day MPs are set to debate bailiff regulation and receive a response from a justice minister.
As part of the “Taking Control” group on bailiff reform, Citizens Advice is calling on the government to introduce a bailiff regulator and establish an independent complaints process.
Government reforms introduced in 2014, which included rules for bailiffs to obey, have not worked because they have not been properly enforced, the charity says.
There has been a 24% rise in people coming to Citizens Advice with bailiff problems since 2014.
The charity helped one person make a complaint after a bailiff aggressively pursued a parking fine that actually belonged to their son, who didn’t live at the home. The money was eventually refunded, but only after 18 months by the enforcement agency’s independent adjudicator.
In comparison, the Financial Conduct Authority for example requires firms to resolve all claims within 8 weeks.
Gillian Guy, Chief Executive of Citizens Advice, said:
“Bailiffs are getting away with breaking rules designed to protect those who’re struggling.
“The complaints process is complicated and frustrating. People lack faith in a system where you’re required to complain to the bailiff’s firm in the first instance.
“Bad practice by bailiffs is widespread and causes stress, anxiety and further financial harm. The government has said it wants to end this for good and to do so, it must bring rule-breaking bailiffs into line by establishing an independent regulator.
“Alongside this, the Ministry of Justice should introduce an independent complaints process. It’s important complaints are reviewed independently of the bailiff industry and outside the court system.
Notes to editors
Citizens Advice analysis of YouGov polling, based on the question “Did you use any formal complaints procedures (e.g. to the creditor, the organisation, the trade association etc.) to raise concerns about your experience?”.
In November 2018, Citizens Advice published new research which revealed that one third (850,000) of the 2.2 million people contacted by a bailiff in the last two years experienced them pushing the limits of the law - such as by forcing entry into a home or removing goods needed for work. This was based on joint polling with StepChange.
Citizens Advice published 'Hidden Debts' in August 2018 estimating the total level of household bill debt - owed to essential service providers and government - to be nearly £19 billion. It responded to the Treasury Select Committee and National Audit Office reports.
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