Rule-breaking bailiffs pushing people further into crisis as fees add £250m to debts

  • More than two million people have been contacted by bailiffs during the cost-of-living crisis

  • One in three people who came into contact with a bailiff experienced behaviour that broke Ministry of Justice rules

  • Citizens Advice is now calling for the regulation of bailiffs to be put on a statutory footing.

Bailiffs are breaking the rules on a massive scale and raking in huge fees, all while driving people into deeper hardship, according to new research from Citizens Advice.

The charity is raising the alarm over bailiff behaviour, as its latest cost of living survey found one in four people (27%) have fallen into debt and are now potentially exposed to heavy-handed bailiffs in the near future.

Widespread rule breaking and massive fees

Furthermore, new Citizens Advice polling found, more than two million people were contacted by bailiffs during the last 18 months, with 1 in 3 (39%) who came into contact with a bailiff experiencing behaviour that broke Ministry of Justice (MoJ) rules. 

This includes bailiffs forcing their way into a home when not allowed, not taking vulnerabilities like disability or illnesses into account, or taking goods needed for work reasons. 

Citizens Advice also found 64% of people who had come into contact with a bailiff had experienced harassment or intimidation through doorstep visits, misrepresenting powers, or even threats to break into the property.

With increasing numbers of people falling behind on essential bills, the charity estimates that bailiffs added £250m in fees to people’s debts during the last 18 months, placing further pressure on household finances.

The financial and emotional cost of bailiff action

Half of people (49%) who came into contact with a bailiff said they experienced long-term financial consequences - such as debts becoming harder to manage, needing to take out more credit and not being able to pay other bills because of bailiff fees.

Almost three in four people (72%) saw their mental health impacted - many left feeling unsafe in their home, afraid to answer the door and even not wanting to leave their house. 

“We've been left robbing Peter to pay Paul” - Citizens Advice client John’s* story

John* lives with his partner and children. They live in a rural area and have a child who is disabled. 

Just before Christmas, John was woken up before 6am by a call from a bailiff who was outside his home. 

John had a £90 debt for a missed council tax payment and was put onto a repayment plan. The bailiff demanded nearly £500 in extra fees for their visit and threatened to take his car, which they’d already clamped. John was forced to borrow money to pay the bailiff as the family are reliant on their car.

“I missed a payment on my debt repayment plan because my child had been taken to hospital. Yet the council still passed my debt over to a bailiff.

“After receiving the call from the bailiff, I went outside and he was in his car. He wouldn't get out to speak to me but was being really aggressive and said I had to pay or he’d call for my car to be removed. 

“I told him that I have a disabled child and he basically said he didn't care. 

“In the end, I got someone to come down with a bank card to pay the bailiff through his car window. Once it was paid he got out of his car and removed the clamp.

“I suffer from PTSD and my anxiety kicked in. It was a really bad day for me. I had to pay back the money I had borrowed which left us short, so other bills didn't get paid and we've been left robbing Peter to pay Paul. ” 

The need for independent regulation

Despite repeated calls for the government to regulate the industry over many years, the current Enforcement Conduct Board only provides independent oversight of bailiff firms that choose to be accredited. 

Citizens Advice believes that with more people falling into debt, and potentially exposed to bailiff action, a voluntary, self-regulation model is no longer able to meet the scale of the issue. Instead, the charity wants the regulation of bailiff firms to be put on statutory footing.

Dame Clare Moriarty, Chief Executive of Citizens Advice, said:

“Bailiffs are a law unto themselves. Rogue behaviour is making things far worse for people in really difficult situations - sometimes pushing them further into debt.

“Rules are in place to try and ensure bailiffs act fairly to recover debt, but our advisers are hearing from people every day who are being intimidated and harassed by bailiffs breaking these rules. 

“This can't be allowed to continue. Bailiffs have been left to regulate themselves for far too long. We need the government to step up and ensure the industry is held accountable for its actions through a statutory regulatory body.”

Notes to editors

  1. Citizens Advice cost of living survey refers to an online survey of 6,000 UK adults conducted by Walnut Unlimited on behalf of Citizens Advice. Fieldwork was undertaken between 9 January - 8 February 2023. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all UK adults (18+).

  2. All other figures, unless otherwise stated, are from YouGov Plc. In national polling conducted by YouGov commissioned by Citizens Advice, 5,730 people in England and Wales were asked if they had been contacted by bailiffs. Total sample size was 6,274 adults. Fieldwork was undertaken between 28th February - 2nd March 2023. The survey was carried out online and analysed independently by Citizens Advice. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all GB adults and the figures broken down by England and Wales only (aged 18+).

  3. A bailiff is someone with legal authorisation to collect certain debts on behalf of creditors. While bailiffs fees are not against the rules, the lack of statutory regulation means that there is a lack of accountability on the fee model and the way it works which  currently causes harm to people in debt. 

  4. Citizens Advice is made up of the national charity Citizens Advice; the network of independent local Citizens Advice charities across England and Wales; the Citizens Advice consumer service; and the Witness Service.

  5. Our network of charities offers impartial advice online, over the phone, and in person, for free. 

  6. Citizens Advice helped 2.55 million people face to face, over the phone, by email and webchat in 2021-22. And we had 40.6 million visits to our website. For full service statistics see our monthly publication Advice trends.

  7. Citizens Advice service staff are supported by more than 18,500 trained volunteers, working at over 2,500 service outlets across England and Wales.

  8. Citizens Advice is the largest provider of free, multi-channel debt advice. Providing that help gives Citizens Advice unique insight into the types of debts people struggle with.

  9. You can get consumer advice from the Citizens Advice consumer service on 0808 223 1133 or 0808 223 1144 for Welsh language speakers.