Complaining about a private bailiff

 October 2016

Fact sheet no. BDL06 EW Complaining about a private bailiff

Information:

terms used to describe bailiffs

Bailiffs are also commonly known as 'enforcement agents'. In this fact sheet we use the term 'bailiff'.

Use this fact sheet to:

  • understand the sorts of debt that are collected by private bailiffs;
  • find out about the guidelines that apply to them; and
  • find out about the different ways of making a complaint.

The sample letters mentioned in this fact sheet can be filled in on our website.

Private bailiffs

Information:

debt collection agencies

Sometimes creditors will use debt collection agencies to ask you to pay what you owe. Debt collection agencies are usually asked to act for the creditor before a creditor takes court action against you. They are not bailiffs and have no right to take your goods or to come into your home. Before using this fact sheet, check whether you are dealing with a debt collection agency or bailiff. If you are not sure, contact us for advice.

This fact sheet deals with complaints about private bailiffs. It does not apply to complaints about county court bailiffs or High Court Enforcement Officers. If you have a complaint about a county court bailiff or High Court Enforcement Officer, contact us for advice.

This fact sheet tells you what you can do if you are unhappy with the way a bailiff has behaved or if they appear to have broken the law. It includes some useful contacts for you to get further help.

Creditors can only use private bailiffs as their agents in certain circumstances. A private bailiff can be employed by a creditor to try to remove your goods. Private bailiffs can usually only be asked to collect a debt after a creditor has taken court action against you.

  • Councils can only use bailiffs to collect business rates or council tax arrears after they have got a liability order against you.
  • Councils can only use bailiffs to collect unpaid parking penalty charges after they have got an order for recovery through the Traffic Enforcement Centre (part of the County Court).

Information:

business rent arrears

Landlords of business premises can use private bailiffs to collect rent arrears without getting a court order. However, you may still be able to complain about their behaviour. Contact us for advice.

  • The Child Support Agency or the Child Maintenance Service can only use bailiffs to collect child support arrears after they have got a liability order against you.
  • Magistrates’ court bailiffs can only be used after you have got a fine from the magistrates’ court.

If bailiffs remove goods, those goods may be sold to raise money to pay what you owe.

In this fact sheet, the term ‘creditor’ is used to describe the local authority, the Child Support Agency or whichever organisation has instructed the bailiff to act.

You will often have chance to negotiate with the creditor before bailiffs can be used. Contact us for advice about the options you have to deal with your debt and to avoid bailiff action.

Warning: 

get help

Get advice first. Bailiff law is very complex, and even if you think what the bailiffs have done is unfair, they may still be acting within the law.

On 6 April 2014, changes were made to bailiff law. Under the new rules, it appears that most bailiffs do not have the right to force entry to your home or business premises unless you have let them in peacefully before and they have followed the correct procedures. If the bailiffs have already been into your home or business premises, get help to check whether they have followed the new rules correctly. If you are unsure about your rights, or if bailiffs threaten to come into your home or business premises when they have not been in before, contact us for advice

What can I complain about?

Extra advice:

contact before complaining

Before making a complaint, contact us for advice to see if you have grounds for the complaint.

If you are unhappy with the way a bailiff has treated you, you have a right to complain. This does not always mean you will be successful. But it does mean that your views should be heard. Common examples of things that you could complain about include the following.

  • Bailiffs being threatening or aggressive.
  • Bailiffs telling you that they have the power to do things when they do not.
  • Bailiffs charging you more in fees than the law allows.
  • Bailiffs giving you unclear or misleading information about your rights.
  • Bailiffs not taking your circumstances into account when negotiating with you.
  • Bailiffs trying to take goods that do not belong to you.
  • Bailiffs trying to take goods that the law says they shouldn’t take.

Taking Control of Goods: National Standards

Information:

am I vulnerable?

The guidelines describe when you may be viewed as vulnerable. This includes when you:

  • are old or seriously ill;
  • have a disability;
  • are a single parent family;
  • are pregnant; or
  • have difficulty speaking, reading or understanding English.

This is not a full list of all the situations when you might be considered vulnerable. Even if you fall into one or more of these categories, it does not mean that you will always be classed as vulnerable.

The Ministry of Justice has issued guidelines called 'Taking Control of Goods: National Standards'. These apply to all types of bailiffs and describe how they are expected to behave. The guidelines are not legally binding. This means that if a bailiff breaks the guidelines, they are not breaking the law. However, because the guidelines describe how bailiffs should behave, they are useful to mention when making a complaint.

You can view a copy of the guidelines on the Ministry of Justice website www.justice.gov.uk or contact us for advice.

The guidelines explain that the bailiffs should:

  • act within the law at all times;
  • not say they can do things when the law does not allow them to;
  • not act in a threatening way towards you;
  • provide information to you in a clear way;
  • give you clear information about fees that are added to your account;
  • provide you with a breakdown of fees that have been added to your account when you make a written request;
  • avoid telling anyone else why they are visiting you;
  • respect your religion and culture;
  • take care that proper procedures are followed when they try to take your goods;
  • handle your goods with care to avoid unnecessary damage; and
  • recognise when you may be vulnerable.

If you are vulnerable, you can ask the bailiff to return the debt to the creditor or to accept monthly payments from you without taking further action. The bailiff should follow the procedures they have agreed with the creditor to help make sure you are dealt with fairly. They should report any concerns they have back to the creditor. If a bailiff does not agree to do this, you may be able to persuade them if you can show that you fall within one or more of the groups that the guidelines say may be vulnerable. You may find our Tell a bailiff that you are vulnerable sample letter helpful.

Complaining to the bailiff

Extra advice:

complaints procedure

Ask the bailiff for a copy of their complaints procedure. This will tell you how they should deal with your complaint, and in what timescale. Remember to send a copy of your complaint to the creditor.

It is usually a good idea to complain to the bailiff first.

  • Write to the bailiff explaining your complaint.
  • Set out the facts as clearly as you can.
  • Say what you are not happy with, and what you want them to do about it.
  • Include any evidence that you feel supports your complaint.
  • You may find the Complain to a bailiff company sample letter helpful.

Complaining to the creditor

Information:

fact sheets

We produce other fact sheets that contain information about particular types of bailiffs. See the later section Other fact sheets.

If you are unhappy with the bailiff's response to your complaint, you can complain to the creditor. Ask for their complaints procedure so that you can see how they should deal with your complaint. They may also have a policy about how the bailiffs should treat you and when bailiffs should return your case to them.

Send the creditor a copy of your original complaint and the bailiff's response. Explain why you are unhappy with the bailiff’s response. The creditor is generally responsible for the actions of their bailiffs. Don’t be put off if the creditor says that they cannot handle your complaint. Send them a copy of your complaint by recorded delivery and keep a copy for your own records.

Complaints to an ombudsman

For some debts, you may be able to make a complaint to an ombudsman about how the bailiffs have behaved. You will not be charged a fee for doing this. You usually have to complain to the creditor that employs the bailiff first. For example, you may be able to complain to the Local Government Ombudsman (LGO) about bailiffs employed by a council but you must complain to the council first. The LGO may not consider complaints if there is a specific court process to deal with the issue, for example disputes about ownership of goods or bailiffs' fees. If the ombudsman agrees with your complaint, it can ask the creditor to:

  • apologise to you;
  • pay you compensation; and
  • improve their procedures.

The Local Government Ombudsman (for England) and Public Services Ombudsman (for Wales) have useful information on their websites about how to make a complaint and what types of complaint they can deal with. See the later section Useful contacts.

Civil Enforcement Association

Information:

what CIVEA can deal with

For more information about the CIVEA complaints procedure, and the types of complaints they can deal with, see www.civea.co.uk or contact us for advice.

Most private bailiff firms are members of the Civil Enforcement Association (CIVEA). See www.civea.co.uk to check whether the bailiff you are dealing with is a member. CIVEA have a ‘Code of Conduct and Good Practice Guide’ which describes how their members should behave. See www.civea.co.uk for a copy. You can only complain to CIVEA about bailiffs that are their members. Explain how the bailiff has broken the guidelines when you make your complaint.

The CIVEA complaints procedure has different stages. At the final stage, if your complaint is successful, the bailiff may be told how they should put things right.

Bailiff certification

Bailiffs must have a certificate granted by the County Court. A complaint from you can help get the certificate withdrawn. The court will hold a hearing and can cancel the bailiff’s certificate. Alternatively they can suspend the bailiff’s certificate and order them to retrain. You do not have to pay a fee to make this application. You need to fill in a set form and send it to the County Court hearing centre that granted the bailiff their certificate. Contact us for advice.

Warning: 

get advice before complaining

Think carefully before you make this type of complaint against a certificated bailiff. If your complaint is not successful, the court will not usually order you to pay extra costs. However, you can be asked to pay costs in some limited situations. Talk to a local money advice centre, law centre or contact us for advice.

Information: 

certificated bailiff register

You can find out if a bailiff has a current certificate by searching the Court Service on-line Certificated Bailiff Register on this website:
Alternatively, call the County Court Bulk Centre on 0300 123 1057.

Other remedies

This fact sheet covers the main types of complaint that you can make about bailiffs. There may be other things you can do if a bailiff has broken the law. For example, there are different types of court action you can take to try and put things right.

  • If the bailiffs have taken goods that they shouldn’t, you could issue a court claim for return of goods.
  • If the bailiffs have not followed the proper procedures when taking control of your goods, you could issue a court claim for any loss you have suffered.

Get advice before taking any type of court action. Talk to a local money advice centre, law centre or contact us for advice.

Other fact sheets 

We have other fact sheets that give information about particular types of bailiff.  Contact us for advice.

Useful contacts

Civil Enforcement Association
Phone: 0844 893 3922
   
Local Government Ombudsman (England)
Phone: 0300 061 0614 or 0845 602 1983
 
Public Services Ombudsman (Wales)
Phone: 0845 601 0987