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System allows bailiffs to get away with rule breaking, says Citizens Advice

9 January 2019

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

  1. 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?”.

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  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. Together we help people resolve their money, legal and other problems by providing information and advice and by influencing policymakers.

  6. Citizens Advice is the largest provider of free, multi-channel debt advice. Debt is the second most common issue we help people with,  accounting for 1 in 4 of the problems we helped people with last year. Providing that help gives Citizens Advice unique insight into the types of debts people struggle with.

  7. Citizens Advice is the statutory consumer advocate for energy and postal markets. We provide supplier performance information to consumers and policy analysis to decision makers.

  8. The Citizens Advice Witness Service provides free and independent support for both prosecution and defence witnesses in every criminal court in England and Wales.

  9. Citizens Advice also offers Pension Wise appointments at 500 locations across England and Wales.

  10. The advice provided by the Citizens Advice service is free, independent, confidential and impartial, and available to everyone regardless of race, gender, disability, sexual orientation, religion, age or nationality.

  11. To get advice online or find your local Citizens Advice in England and Wales, visit

  12. You can get consumer advice from the Citizens Advice consumer service on 03454 04 05 06 or 03454 04 05 05 for Welsh language speakers.

  13. We helped 2.6 million people face to face, over the phone, by email and webchat in 2017-18. For full service statistics see our monthly publication Advice trends.

  14. Citizens Advice service staff are supported by more than 23,000 trained volunteers, working at over 2,500 service outlets across England and Wales