19:07, January 08 102 0 theguardian.com

2019-01-08 19:07:06
Labour MP calls for reforms to rogue bailiff complaints system

A Labour MP has urged the government to make it easier to challenge rogue bailiffs after a report found few people made formal complaints despite huge numbers saying rules had been broken.

Emma Reynolds, who will lead a debate on the issue in parliament on Wednesday, said it was anomalous that unlike with the police – the only other profession able to enter people’s homes and seize possessions – there was no independent route for redress.

A report published on Wednesday by Citizens Advice found a small proportion of those who experience poor behaviour or lawbreaking by bailiffs formally report it, because the process is overly complex and there is little faith in how it works.

CA research found that of 2.2 million people visited by bailiffs in the past two years, 850,000 experienced rule breaking. But the report said only 28% of these made a complaint.

One of the ways people can complain about misbehaviour by bailiffs is a statutory process through the courts, where they can seek the return of seized goods or damages.

However, since the process was introduced as part of changes to the sector in 2014, there have been only 56 complaints made this way, the CA report found, saying the route was “highly inaccessible” and seen as expensive.

People can also complain directly to the debt collection companies involved, or the two trade associations representing the sector, the Civil Enforcement Association and the High Court Enforcement Officers Association.

However, the CA report cited worries from people involved in such processes that since these are representative organisations, they are not independent.

In extracts of her speech to the debate in Westminster Hall, Reynolds noted the difficulties of this system.

“The police are the only other profession permitted by law to enter your property and seize possessions,” she will say. “If you have a complaint against the police, you can report it to the IPCC [Independent Police Complaints Commission, replaced last year by the Independent Office for Police Conduct]. If you have a complaint against a bailiff, short of taking them to court, there is no meaningful way to seek redress.”

Bailiffs had, Reynolds warned, become a law unto themselves, and while she welcomed a call for evidence from the Ministry of Justice last year, more urgent action was needed.

“Ministers talk about the poor practice of a small number of rogue bailiffs, but this flies in the face of the evidence,” she said. “This is not just a few bad apples but a widespread problem. We have to face up to the scale of the challenge if we are to find the right solutions.”

The MoJ’s call for evidence, launched in November, said the changes in 2014 “significantly curtailed bailiffs’ powers”, but after listening to charities and others, the government wanted to see what more should be done.

The CA report said while the 2014 changes made some improvements, they “have failed to clean up the industry because they aren’t properly enforced”.

It added: “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.”

The study found that of advisers helping people who had experienced problems with bailiffs, only 11% said they had had a positive experience making a complaint.

Common complaints about bailiffs, the report said, included rejecting payment offers, misrepresenting their right of entry, wrongly seizing goods, being aggressive, and mistreating vulnerable people.

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