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Complaining about bailiffs
Table of contents
- About complaining about bailiffs
- How must the bailiffs act
- Complaining to the bailiff’s firm
- Complaining to the creditor
- Complaining to the local authority about council tax bailiffs
- Complaining to the bailiff’s professional body
- Complaining to the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman
- Complaining to the Local Government Ombudsman for England or the Public Service Ombudsman for Wales
- Taking court action
- Further help
Tell us more about your experiences to help us change the way bailiffs behave.
If you owe money, your creditor has various options to try and get their money back. Instructing the bailiffs to take your things away is one of these options.
A bailiff is someone whose job it is to take away things belonging to people who owe money. The things are then sold and the money is used to pay back the debts.
If the bailiffs don’t act correctly, you may be able to make a complaint against them or take court action against them or report them to the police. The rules are complicated and often depend on the sort of debt and who’s instructing the bailiffs. Even if you think something is unfair, the bailiffs might still be acting legally.
This page tells you about how to complain to about a bailiff including:
- how the bailiffs should behave
- what creditors can do if the bailiffs don’t act properly about bailiffs acting for them
- when you can complain to the ombudsman if the bailiffs don’t act properly
- taking action in court if the bailiffs don’t act properly
- further information about bailiffs.
The bailiffs must follow the law.
They aren’t allowed to pretend to have more legal powers that they really have.
The bailiffs should treat you fairly. They aren’t allowed to threaten you and they should act at all times in a professional, calm and dignified manner.
They should take special care when dealing with people who are considered vulnerable, for example if you're a single parent, elderly, disabled, seriously ill or if you find it difficult to speak, understand or read English. Bailiffs shouldn't discriminate against you because of your age, race, sex, disability, sexuality, or religion. This would include using racist, sexist or homophobic language.
The first stage of a complaint against a private bailiff will be to complain to their firm. The firm will usually have a complaints procedure that you must follow.
If you're having a problem with a bailiff and you can't sort the matter out with the bailiff themselves, you can make a complaint to the creditor who is instructing them. Most creditors want to know that the bailiffs they use are following their instructions and policies. Creditors won't usually want to be associated with bad practice and so will usually try to put things right if you complain.
Put your complaint in writing using the creditor's formal complaints procedure. You can usually get details of the complaints procedure by phoning the creditor or checking on their website.
Your local authority should have a policy about how the council tax bailiffs should behave and what they are expected to do. For example, there may be a policy about what repayment arrangements the bailiffs should accept or how long the bailiffs should try to get back money for a council tax debt before they give up.
If you think the bailiffs are behaving unreasonably, ask the local authority for a copy of their policy on collecting council tax arrears. If the bailiffs aren’t following the policy properly, you can make a complaint through the local authority complaints procedure or speak to your local councillor.
Bailiffs professional bodies represent the interests of their members. They also have codes of practice setting down how bailiffs should behave and a complaints procedure which you can use if you're unhappy with a bailiff.
You should complain first to the bailiff’s firm.
The professional body won’t usually consider your complaint if it’s about:
- the amount of debt being collected. Problems with fees, however, can be dealt with
- allegations of violence, which should be addressed to the police
- cases already being considered by the court.
If your complaint is upheld and it’s serious, the professional body could expel the bailiff. The professional bodies for bailiffs are:
You may be able to complain to the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman about county court or High Court bailiffs. To make a complaint, you have to contact your MP in writing and ask them to refer the case to the ombudsman.
To complain about bailiffs who are collecting council tax arrears, you can send your complaint directly to the ombudsman for your area or you can ask a local councillor to do this for you.
If an ombudsman agrees that the bailiffs have acted incorrectly, they can ask the bailiffs for an apology or for financial compensation or repayment of money due.
If you think that the bailiffs have acted incorrectly, you may be able to take the bailiffs to court. You may be able to:
- apply for the bailiffs certificate to be taken away. If the bailiffs' certificate is taken away by the court, the bailiffs won’t be able to do any more certificated work
- if the bailiffs have acted unlawfully, for example, if they take more goods than are needed to pay your debts or they take goods when they have no right to. If they didn’t follow the proper procedure. An example is if goods were taken lawfully but then they were sold at less than their second-hand value
- if the bailiffs don’t take care of your goods and the goods are damaged, you could take them to court for negligence
- if the bailiffs come into your home without following the rules, you could take them to court for trespass. You might have a case of discrimination if, for example, the bailiffs are racist, sexist or homophobic.
If your claim is successful, you might get compensation or the court may be able to order the bailiffs to do something, like return your goods.
You will need legal advice about taking the bailiffs to court, and legal aid may be available.
For more information about legal aid, see Help with legal costs.
If you think you have grounds to take legal action against the bailiffs, you should get advice from an experienced adviser, for example, at a Citizens Advice Bureau. To search for your nearest CAB, including those that can give advice by e-mail, click on nearest CAB.
- Rent arrears [ 40 KB] fact sheet.
High Court Enforcement Officers Association (HCEOA)
The HCEOA is the professional body for High Court enforcement officers. You can check the members list and make a complaint through their website at:
The CIVEA is the professional body for private certified bailiffs in England and Wales. The CIVEA will only deal with written complaints about its members and does not give information or advice over the telephone or by email. You can download a complaints form from their website. The address of the CIVEA is:
513 Bradford Road