The rules of enforcement: making a complaint about the behaviour of bailiffs in a self-regulated system
Problems with bailiffs are some of the most common debt issues we help people with. In the past year, Citizens Advice has helped 41,000 people with 90,000 bailiff issues, and the bailiff pages on our website were visited more than 140,000 times.
Recent Citizens Advice research found that 2.2 million people report being contacted by bailiffs in the last two years and more than a third of these - 850,000 people - have experienced bailiffs breaking the rules.
While largely positive, new rules governing bailiff’s behaviour, introduced in 2014, have failed to clean up the industry because they aren’t properly enforced. Partly this is because it’s too difficult for individuals to make complaints about bailiffs and there isn’t an organisation ensuring they comply with the rules. This means people cannot enforce their rights when bailiffs break the rules.
In the last 2 years, just 28% of people who experienced a bailiff breaking the rules made a complaint. More starkly, according to the Ministry of Justice, there have only been 56 complaints through the new court-based process since it was introduced in 2014.
Through research with advisers and clients with experience of making complaints about bailiffs we have found that there are significant barriers to making complaints and, when people do, the process doesn’t work:
- Both clients and advisers lack faith in the process. 31% of advisers we surveyed had not complained on occasions because clients were reluctant to and 29% had not complained because they lack faith in the process.
- The complaints process is structurally flawed. The process isn’t independent and bailiff firms are seen to shift the blame while complainants are kept in the dark. Only 11% of advisers we surveyed have had a positive experience making a complaint.
- Complaints lead to unsatisfactory outcomes. Remedial action rarely leads to a bailiff being penalised for breaking the rules and the lack of consequence serves to suppress future complaints.
Relying on self-regulation and court-based enforcement means people can’t enforce their rights when bailiffs break the rules. As a result, the positive reforms made by the last government haven’t been effective. The Ministry of Justice should use its ongoing consultation on bailiff regulation to introduce an independent regulator and complaints mechanism to protect people when bailiffs break the rules.