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How to complain about a bailiff

Having bailiffs turn up at your door is often upsetting. But bailiffs should always treat you with respect, and they must always keep to the law.

You can complain if bailiffs:

  • enter your house illegally;
  • charge overly large fees;
  • take things that they are not allowed to take;
  • take things that are not yours;
  • lose or damage your stuff;
  • take things worth far more than the debt;
  • sell things below their market value; or
  • don’t follow the proper procedure.

Clearly, no one, including a bailiff, is allowed to be violent to you. If a bailiff is violent when they visit, you should call the police straight away or as soon as possible afterwards. They can be charged with assault, just like anybody else.

Who to complain to

To complain about a bailiff, write to the firm that employs them or to the court, local authority or other body that uses their services. You can make a complaint over the phone but it is much better to complain in writing so you have a record of it.

You may be able to get compensation for how you have been treated. This may involve taking legal action against either the bailiffs or the authority that sent them. If you are thinking of doing this, get advice (see Where to get help and Jargon Buster).

For complaints about:

  • County court bailiffs, write to the Court Manager at the relevant court.
  • Bailiffs collecting council tax, write to the Council.
  • Bailiffs collecting magistrates’ court fines, write to the Clerk to the Justices at the relevant magistrates' court.

It can be helpful to send a copy of the letters you write and receive to your local councillor or Member of Parliament.

What to include in your letter

  • Put ‘Complaint’ clearly at the top of your letter or email.
  • Give times and dates of any incidents – be specific.
  • Explain what happened and give details, for example, if you or other people in your home felt threatened by the bailiff's behaviour.
  • Keep your letter short and simple.
  • Stay calm and polite, no matter how upset you are. That way, you will get your points across much more clearly and effectively. The person who gets your letter or email is only human. If you write a rude letter, they may not put as much effort into helping you as they might do otherwise.
  • If you complain by phone, make sure you keep a note of the date and time when you called and the name of the person you spoke to.
  • Keep a copy of the letter, and make a note of the date you sent it.

Following up your complaint

Top tips

  • Keep all your paperwork in a file.
  • Keep copies of any letters you receive about the debt.
  • Keep copies of any letters and forms you send to or receive from the bailiffs.
  • Keep a record of any phone calls you make to the bailiffs. Include the date, time and the name of the person you spoke to.
  • If you send letters to the bailiffs, the council or a court think about using signed for delivery. That way you get proof of delivery including a signature from the receiver. It also gives you the ability to check online or via your mobile to see when your item was delivered.
If your complaint is not dealt with satisfactorily after your first letter, don't give up. You may have several other options.

  • You can refer the complaint to a bailiff's professional association – if they are a member of one. Their letterhead should tell you this. This is likely to be the Civil Enforcement Association which represents all private certificated bailiffs in England and Wales. For information about how to complain to this association see 'Links to other websites'.
  • If your complaint is about a High Court Enforcement Officer, you can refer this to their professional body, the High Court Enforcement Officers’ Association. For information about how to complain to this association see 'Links to other websites'.
  • If the problem is with bailiffs sent by the council, give the council a ring. Ask if they have a procedure that says who you can take your complaint to if you are unhappy with the council's response. If they don’t, you could speak to your local councillor. If the councillor agrees that the council has not dealt with your complaint properly (or at all), they can take your case up with the relevant department. If this does not work, you should consider making an application to the relevant local ombudsman. Your local CAB, Law Centre or other independent advice centre may be able to help you with this (see Where to get help and Jargon Buster). If you are complaining about a bailiff sent by a council in England you can complain to the Local Government Ombudsman (see 'Links to other websites'.). If you are complaining about a bailiff sent by a council in Wales you can complain to the Public Services Ombudsman for Wales (see 'Links to other websites').
  • If the problem is with private bailiffs, you can check whether they are licensed (the law calls this ‘certificated’) and by which court on the Certified Bailiffs register see 'Links to other websites'. Bailiffs collecting rent arrears, council tax, business rates and fines must be certificated. Certificates are granted on the basis that the person is 'fit and proper' and knows the law. If they have abused their position and acted against the law you may want to consider making a complaint to the court that licensed them using the court form in 'Links to other websites'. However it is usually best to use other avenues of complaint first because if your complaint fails you can be ordered to pay the bailiff’s court costs and these can be significant. So, get some advice from your local advice agency or from one of the national agencies listed in see Where to get help and Jargon Buster before you go down this route. Sometimes it can be useful to threaten making this kind of complaint even if you don’t go ahead with it as a way of getting the bailiff to deal with your complaint seriously.

January 2014

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