Transport for London unmoved on issue of equality

It’s 2018 and 8 years since the implementation of the Equality Act 2010. You may be forgiven for thinking that companies and organisations had got their act together and were ensuring that all services were accessible. However, recent investigations into London Underground (LU) show there is much work to be done to improve services.

Let’s loAlison dressed in black trouser ad black patterned top with her guide dogok at just one case. Last year Alison travelled from Walthamstow Central to Oxford Circus on the Underground with her sister-in-law Claire. Alison’s guide dog is not escalator trained. At most Underground stations, there is a choice of escalators or stairs. At Oxford Circus there are three escalators but no stairs or lift.  A fellow passenger saw that they needed help and offered her assistance in carrying the guide dog up the escalator.

Claire then went onto St Paul’s where a member of LU staff told her to ‘phone customer services and inform them of time of travel back as it may be possible to stop the escalator so they could walk down. After ten minutes on hold, Claire gave up. At Oxford Circus another member of staff also said it may be possible to stop the escalator but at the discretion of the station manager. Alison needed to get back to Kings Cross but the Station Manager refused to stop the escalator as 5.00pm was a busy period. The nearest station was Green Park and not convenient. Alison and Claire got a cab to Kings Cross where the driver waived part of the fare.

“Switching off one out of three possible escalators to allow a blind passenger with their guide dog to walk down would not have caused any inconvenience to other passengers as they still would have had the option to walk down or wait for an escalator.  The time that it would have taken us to walk down the escalator would have been approximately five minutes, however this was deemed too inconvenient” says Claire.

A recent poll on Facebook showed overwhelmingly that the general public agreed with her. People were asked if they would object to one of the 3 escalators being stopped for five minutes to allow an untrained guide dog and its owner to walk up or down the stairs.

Lots of people on FB saying they would not object to the escalator being stoppedOthers, although significantly outnumbered said they would object were worried about overcrowding and safety, particularly at this station.

FB comment about the station being too busy so would be dangerous from overcrowding

FB comment object to stopping escalator but policy should be clear

guide dog owner comment on FB safety issue as escalator takes time to stop and start and narrow platform can cause safety concern if no overcrowding should stop

However, others were just as pragmatic, saying little different to finding an escalator broken.

FB comment no different to escalator being out of ordercomment people will always complain e.g. two women gave birth on train and people complained about delay!

 

A tube driver who wanted to remain anonymous said “To be honest, they seem more interested in targets and budgets rather than caring for the safety of customers, most outside tube stations are left unstaffed with just a phone number to call for help, how is that caring?”

There is certainly some confusion regarding policies and what if any of this is part of any training staff have to ensure everyone has the same message and treats people equally. The Accessible Network 2015 document states “We provide our customers with alternative travel arrangements, if needed, when lifts or escalators are out of service. This may mean a taxi provided at our cost.” So not if they are working but can’t be used?

Transport for London also states in Help from Staff that “On the Tube, TfL Rail and Overground, station staff will also accompany you to the train and help you on board and, if needed, can arrange for you to be met at your destination. Anyone can use this service, but it is particularly used by blind and visually impaired passengers and people using boarding ramps onto trains.”

The Equality Act 2010 legally protects people from discrimination. A company must make adaptions for people with disabilities where possible. Here it was possible? Even if the escalator could not have been stopped where was a member of staff to carry the dog to enable a disabled person to use the services?

The TFL underground policy with regards assistance dogs which are not trained to use escalators  and believe restricting disabled passengers to non busy travelling times is discriminatory and therefore illegal. The Transport for London’s People with sight or hearing loss policy states that station staff will help find an alternative route however the alternative route suggested would have been a further distance away from the required destination and they gave no further help.

As a result of the service Alison and Claire incurred a black cab fare of £12.60 and despite paying money onto an Oyster card, did not make the journey from Oxford Circus to Kings Cross.

Under the Consumer Rights Act 2015 Alison is entitled to receive services carried out with reasonable skill and care. 1) The customer services line clearly does not have enough people to deal with calls, 2) staff from two different stations said that they should be able to stop the escalator showing a lack of training across customer facing staff 3) no alternative was provided and service was refused. This was refused on grounds of disability which is a breach of the Equality Act 2010.

Claire wrote to TFL about the issues and after chasing twice finally got a response from London Transport over three weeks later. She received an apology and the cab fare.

When I asked the Transport for London Press Office for some clarity regarding their policies regarding stopping escalators for untrained guide dogs, stations able and unable to do this and providing taxi fares, it took 8 days to find out saying that it had had to “…co-ordinate with a lot of different areas in the business which has taken some time”, indicating that there is not a clear understanding across the network. In a statement it said:

“We want blind and visually impaired people to be able to travel around London with confidence and we are putting more staff than ever before in the public areas of stations to provide assistance. Assistance dogs are very much welcome and for a number of years we’ve been working with Guide Dogs to provide a training package so that guide dogs can use escalators.

When a customer travels on the network with their assistance dog, they will usually be helped to access the platform via a staircase or lift. If the station only has an escalator, assistance dogs that have been trained can use that.

For their safety, dogs that haven’t been trained should, if at all possible, be carried. Where this option is not possible, a member of staff can stop the escalator to help a blind or visually impaired person and their dog walk up or down safely.

At some times of day the Tube can be very busy, so there may be occasions when, to avoid overcrowding, we are unable to stop an escalator. In that case our staff will offer blind or visually impaired customers a taxi.”

I emailed the London Transport Commissioner asking for comment on the following:

1) Why it took over 3 weeks to receive a reply.

2) There was not a thorough investigation as clearly shown by the very brief email from Vernon. Every single paragraph is a standard one and does not refer to the individual case in any shape or form other than a sentence acknowledging that a taxi should have been paid for.

3) The policies referred to in the letter were not mentioned at all. Where is any comment regarding the breaches?

4) No reference is made to the unacceptable length of time Ms Williams was left on the phone before giving up, please provide an explanation for this time and what you will be doing to improve wait times

5) No reference is made at all to identifying members of staff despite being provided with dates and times or how you will ensure staff provide correct information in future. “I will make sure our staff are reminded of our policy and apply it”. How, what parts and how will they apply it and over what period of time?

6) Vernon states that LT is not in breach of the Equality Act but makes no reference to staff providing differing information and not providing an alternative and how this does not breach the Act. How is this not a breach?

7) Vernon makes no reference to the Consumer Rights Act 2015 and the breach by not providing services with reasonable skill and care. Please do so.

8) Why weren’t these points answered in the email Ms Williams finally received?

The response? Back came the Managing Director,  Customers, Communication and Technology.

“I am very sorry that you that you do not consider my response to have been timely and that I have failed to cover all of your points. 

All I can add is that we are committed to making public transport accessible to all Londoners, backed up by record investment in new step-free station schemes and better information and other support to give people with disabilities greater confidence to use our services. We are also human and sometimes make mistakes, as we did in this case.”

tube train and "Transport for London stuck in inequality jam"

 

As you can see from the extent of the above, London Transport does not appear to investigate complaints properly, does little to help disabled passengers and nothing to ensure that what help there is, is widely communicated to both staff and passengers.

 

 

 

Share your stories of transport and discrimination in the comments below. I have a feeling that there will be a few….

 

Ten ways GDPR will help consumers

Sara Williams Debt camel guest post on The Complaining Cow

This is a guest post by Sara Williams, an adviser at Citizens Advice who has her own website Debt Camel where she blogs about everything to do with debt and credit ratings. She also guest posted Everything you need to know about Payday loans and Bright ideas for complaining about Brighthouse (& avoiding them in the first place!)

In a month’s time, On 25th May 2018 the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) comes into force in Britain and the rest of the EU. This a major change to the rules governing how organisations manage personal data about their customers and employees.

I think it’s all good for consumers. Your existing rights under the Data Protection Act are being clarified and extended, not restricted or watered down, and some dubious marketing practices will now be clearly banned.

What personal information is covered?

The EU GDPR website says this:

“Any information related to a natural person or ‘Data Subject’, that can be used to directly or indirectly identify the person. It can be anything from a name, a photo, an email address, bank details, posts on social networking websites, medical information, or a computer IP address.”

Lot of coloured @ buttons

What organisations are covered?

The new regulations apply to all organisations that process or hold data for people living in the UK. This isn’t just companies, it also includes government departments, your local authority, charities, schools, hospitals and GPs. And the organisations don’t have to be based in the UK – it also applies to Google, Amazon, Facebook etc.

Coloured files in cabinet with name labels text "What the new GDPRs mean for consumers

Ten ways GDPR will help consumers

1) The GDPR Right of Access means that organisations will no longer be able to charge £10 when you ask them to provide some or all the personal information they hold about you. This is also called making a Subject Access Request. People don’t like paying £10 if they are unsure what they will get, so no fee is good news.

2) You can also access information about your children or someone for whom you have a Lasting Power of Attorney.

3) Before GDPR, credit data was treated differently with the three Credit Reference Agencies (CRA), Experian, Equifax and Call Credit. They are currently allowed to charge you £2 for a copy of your statutory credit report – but GDPR will apply to them to so this will become free. If you have been having a dispute with a lender, say about a default date that they have added, being able to check all three CRA reports without a charge will be very helpful.

4) Organisations will now have to get your explicit consent to adding you to a mailing list. This means you making a positive decision e.g. by ticking a box. The box can’t be pre-ticked online so you may not spot it. And it can’t be misleadingly worded in the negative “Tick here if you do not want to receive information”.

Organisations also have to be clear why they are gathering information from you and what they will use it for. So if they offer a free information booklet or are giving away money off coupons, this doesn’t mean that they can automatically add you to their mailing list – you have to clearly agree to that.

5) Organisations can’t share or sell your personal information unless you explicitly consent to this. No longer can this buried away in the Terms & Conditions. I can’t think why anyone would ever actually want to consent!

6) The GDPR Right To Object means you have to be given an easy to way to change your mind and opt out of marketing communications in future, both by email and by post.

7) The GDPR Right to Rectification means that an organisation must correct inaccurate data without delay.

8) The GDPR Right to Erasure means you may have a right to get your personal data deleted. This depends on why that data is being held. If it is just for marketing, it should be deleted when you ask for this. But a bank which has given you a loan or a shop that sold you a washing machine will have legitimate reasons to retain this information for a period.

9) Personal data breaches have to be notified to the supervisory authority (typically the ICO) within 72 hours unless they are minor, in which case they have to be documented, including the reason for not reporting them. This would include when personal information is sent to the wrong person, if a laptop containing personal data is left on a train or stolen, or if a hacker managed to download or alter personal data. High risk breaches have to be notified to the persons whose data has been affected without undue delay.

10) An organisation can face fines of up to €20million (£17million in the UK) or 4% of their annual global turnover, whichever is larger. Ouch! That is a huge amount more than the current maximum fine of £500,000 under the old Data Protection Act.

I have only highlighted some points here. The ICO site has lots of information about personal data situations. If you want to know how your personal information should be handled and how to raise a concern, look at the ICO’s “For The Public” page. That has lots of details, including how to make a Subject Access Request and links to specific situations from criminal records to the use of drones. Where necessary, those pages will all be updated when GDPR goes live on May 25th.

Will this really make a difference?

The ICO says:

“…it’s scaremongering to suggest that we’ll be making early examples of organisations for minor infringements or that maximum fines will become the norm.”

But the fact that huge penalties will be possible is causing many organisations to take GDPR very seriously.

If this means that firms are more careful with our information, they only hold what is actually needed, the nuisance of unwanted marketing is reduced and it’s easier to get problems resolved then GDPR will be a positive help to British consumers.

 

Credit card fee changes: The hidden impact on small businesses & consumers

Press release

Companies will no longer be able to charge fees for using credit cards, following the implementation of a new EU directive.

credit card twiddlytwaddlytwoo.co.uk

Since April 2013 traders have not been able to charge consumers fees that exceed the cost for using a particular method of payment. However, from 13 January 2018 companies will no longer be able to charge any fees for the use of credit or debit cards. This includes payment methods such as Apple Pay and PayPal, too. The change also applies to Government departments and local councils. So, for example, DVLA will no longer charge you a fee for paying by credit card when you renew your road tax.

(Be aware though, that although the Law covers the EU and therefore there should be no charges for credit card payments anywhere within it, the UK Government extended it to Paypal etc. So if using PayPal or similar then you will need to check with the country as to whether they also applied this extension.

Is this good news for consumers? Helen Dewdney, The Complaining Cow and author of How to Complain: The Essential Consumer Guide to Getting Refunds, Redress and Results! thinks so. (That’s me that is).

She asks “Who isn’t annoyed when they have to pay a fee for paying for their car tax or to Ryanair for booking their flight?” Dewdney is emphatic that traders have had long enough to know this change has been coming to be able to plan and not pass increases in costs to consumers. “That goes for those Government departments, too, so there should certainly not be an increase in council tax fees and road tax to cover the supposed ‘loss’, thank you very much!”

She adds “Used wisely, many people pay by credit cards to defer payment and also to get cashback rewards!”

Scrapping the credit card payment charge on picture of card reader

However, not everyone welcomes the changes. David Taylor, who blogs at Thinking Thrifty and runs a café, fears that with no charge it’ll encourage card payments even further for really small amounts. He is considering not taking credit card payments any more, admitting that he will lose some custom “but if that custom is making me a loss, ironically, I can’t afford the custom anyway.”

The Federation of Small Businesses believes that David is not alone saying “many small firms will struggle to absorb the costs associated with card payments”.

Not all small businesses agree though:

Richard Allen of Reflections Detailing – a car restorer – has never charged a fee for using credit cards. He says “It’s just a cost of doing business and in the grand scheme of things, it’s a pretty small cost. I didn’t know it was coming though. But actually it costs me more to handle cash in any case!” He notes that credit card transactions incur a fee of 2.389%, debit card transactions 0.495% and cash 2%. Every card transaction also has a 5p authorisation fee. No company ever charged for handling cash!”

Then there’s places like Just Each which had a 50p credit card  charge. They have had to scrap that and have introduced a 50p service charge for all transactions. Keep and eye out for those and come back here and tell us so we can have a rogue’s gallery!

The Taxman cometh
The HMRC has received criticism for abolishing credit card payments. A spokesperson for the HMRC said “We will no longer be accepting personal credit card payments from 13 January as new rules mean that we can no longer pass on what our bank charge for processing a credit card payment. It would be unfair to expect other taxpayers to pick up this cost. There are a range of ways for people to pay us depending on the type of tax being paid, including debit cards, Direct Debit, Faster Payment and BACS.”

Dewdney believes that people should put money aside as they earn it to pay their tax. “However”, she argues, “for some people less able to plan financially, or who suddenly find themselves in a difficult financial situation, the short notice (announced a few weeks before Christmas and nowhere on the HMRC website) will be very unhelpful.”

If you are struggling to pay your tax see Debt Camel’s 10 things you should know if you can’t pay your tax bill

Open banking changes
The arguments for and against the banning of charges are only part of the bigger picture. The ban comes in on the same day as the introduction of Open Banking which could potentially bring greater benefits for consumers.

Sara Williams is a Citizen’s Advice advisor and UK Money Blogger of the Year 2017 for Debt Camel, covering debt and credit ratings. She says that large retailers may try to bypass the current payment mechanisms and provide payment apps directly to customers. “Getting rid of charges for using cards will be generally good for consumers.” But she warns consumers to “Look out for side-effects. Card companies may reduce their charges to business and cash back credit cards may disappear as a result.”

Seen a business charging the fee?
Complain! Obviously! Write in the first instance claiming the fee back if you have already paid it. Use the Top 20 Tips for effective complaining. You can also report the company to Trading Standards and let us know about in the comments below too!

How to Complain: The Essential Consumer Guide to Getting Refunds, Redress and Results!

 

For more information, guidance, advice, tips and templates on complaining effectively GET THE BOOK! How To Complain: The ESSENTIAL Consumer Guide to Getting REFUNDS, Redress and RESULTS!

Plane greedy – Are airlines holding families to ransom?

Update 03 February 2018. The CAA is to investigate airlines and seating allocations. Interestingly you will see below that in August 2017 it told me that this wasn’t a problem. It seems to have changed its mind! Finally, after complaints from consumer groups and others it is to investigate the practice of charging for people to sit together.

Update 01 July  2018 the link to the CAA research above now has the findings. However, it appears that it isn’t doing much about it.

Aeroplane in blue sky text - CAA to investigate airlines' charges

Many airlines introduced paying for seat reservations on flights some years ago. Airlines say this is because some customers want to ensure that they are near the loo, by a window, or in the middle if they get travel sick etc. Of course there’s also paying over the odds for legroom seats too! Remember when you could get them for free just by asking at the desk?!

Update 05/02/18 Civil Aviation Authority launches review of airlines’ allocated seating policies launches review of airline allocated seating polices after conducting consumer research that showed the current approach to allocated seating is causing confusion. I’m not confused, I am annoyed about the greed though! It closed in March and we await the findings in the late Summer/early Autumn.

So, what are the legal rules about seat reservations?

EU Regulation (EU) 965/2012
This regulatation states that if a child travels with an accompanying adult in the same class of cabin, the child should be seated in the same seat row segment as the accompanying adult. Where this is not possible, the child should be seated no more than one seat row or aisle away.

The European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) is responsible for aviation rules and regulations in Europe and their document known as Annex IV (PART-OPS) says:
CAT.OP.MPA.165 Passenger seating
“The operator shall establish procedures to ensure that passengers are seated where, in the event that an emergency evacuation is required, they are able to assist and not hinder evacuation of the aircraft.”

Civil Aviation Authority guidance
The CAA states it has published guidance material for UK airlines explaining how to comply with the above rule, part of which says that family groups should be seated together.

“The seating of children close by their parents or guardians should be the aim of airline seat allocation procedures for family groups and large parties of children.
Young children and infants who are accompanied by adults should ideally be seated in the same seat row as the adult. Where this is not possible, children should be separated by no more than one seat row from accompanying adults. This is because the speed of an emergency evacuation may be affected by adults trying to reach their children.”

The CAA says it receives very few complaints relating to seating. A CAA spokesperson said

“On the whole we are satisfied that UK airlines comply with their obligations to seat family groups together. It is important though that passengers are made aware of rights during the booking process. Our advice to passengers is clear, family groups do not have to pay for reserved seating in order to guarantee they sit together. Airlines are obliged to sit children in the same seat row as an accompanying adult during the boarding process. Where that is not possible, (e.g. Boeing 737s or Airbus 320s, where cabins are configured into rows of three seats either side of the single aisle and more than three people are travelling together) the child should be no more than one seat row away under EU rules. The CAA works closely with UK airlines to ensure they understand this obligation.”

05/02/18 Asked for clarity on this change in view the CAA did not provide a comment.

So, how do major airlines compare when allocating seats for adults with children?

Airline Short haul from & up to long haul Reserving seats
BA £7 £20 Free to gold/silver members at booking, Bronze week before flying, anyone 24 hours before free allocation
Thomas Cook £10 £22 Free allocation at check-in
Thomson £9.50 £15.50 Free allocation to anyone 7 days before flying
Monarch £3 to £11 £11 Free to Vantage Club gold members incl. legroom, 24 hours before free allocation
Easyjet from £1.99 to £21.99 Free allocation at check in and to those with Flexi tickets & easyJet Plus cardholders)
Ryanair £8 or £13 or £15 1 adult must pay €4 so children get free reserved seat. Max. 4 children for each adult per booking get free seat reserved. Anyone free at 4 days 2 hrs before flying

Ryanair aeroplane over fields text CAA to investigate airline charges for you to sit with your party

British Airways
A spokesperson for BA said “We prioritise seating families travelling with children together, which we organise a few days before online check-in opens. We will always make sure than any child under 12 is seated with an adult from their group.”

Thomas Cook
A spokesperson for Thomas Cook Airlines said: “We always give seating priority to families flying with children to make sure that at least one accompanying adult is always seated with a child. To guarantee the whole family is seated together, families have the option of paying for seat selection.”

Thomson
A Thomas Cook spokesperson said “We always try to seat customers travelling together next to each other wherever possible, with priority given to families travelling with children. If a customer has chosen not to use the pre-booking service and, in very rare circumstances, their child is initially allocated a seat away from them it will be automatically re-assigned.”

Monarch
A Monarch spokesperson said “Monarch will always try to sit families together and a child (2-15 years) will never be sat without an accompanying adult. During peak periods, it may be necessary to split groups/families, but a child will always be sat with an accompanying adult from the same group/family.”

Easyjet
An Easyjet spokesperson said “If passengers choose not to pay to select their seats our seating systems will always aim to seat families together when they check-in online. If a passenger does leave checking in until close to the time of departure and all of the seats have been allocated to other passengers, we will try to allocate as many of the family together as we can at the airport and if necessary will ask other passengers if they are prepared to move once they are onboard the plane.”

Ryanair
A Ryanair spokesperson said of the mandatory charge, introduced in October 2016:“This way adults can choose where to seat their children. This will also allow adults to check-in for their flight 60 days before departure. It will not be mandatory for any other adults or teenagers in the booking to reserve a seat; however they may choose to do so.”

Comparing Ryanair equality
Does Ryanair apply this policy to all parties that require individuals in need of care to be sat together? Where a reduced mobility passenger is travelling with an accompanying adult, Ryanair says it “…contacts them by email and do our best to ensure the accompanying passenger is seated next to them and allocate them a seat free of charge.”

Is Ryanair in breach of The Equal Status Acts 2000-2015, because adults with children are being charged where others without children are not, which is therefore discriminatory against those with dependants? Also, others in need of a carer are not charged.

Irish Aviation Authority
Ryanair comes under the jurisdiction of the Irish Aviation Authority (IAA). A spokesperson for the IAA said “If a child travels with an accompanying adult in the same class of cabin, the child should be seated in the same seat row segment as the accompanying adult. Where this is not possible, the child should be seated no more than one seat row or aisle away. All Irish airlines must comply with these requirements and the IAA monitors Irish airlines to ensure compliance.” Despite my requesting a response regarding Ryanair’s mandatory charging from the IAA Director of Safety Regulation Ralph James and CEO Eamonn Brennan and repeated requests to the Press Office and making a complaint using the IAA procedure, the IAA has declined to comment any further on repeating the line on the EU guidance and refuses point blank to comment on monitoring Ryanair’s practice and whether it will take any action on the possible breach of the EU guidelines and indeed the Equality Act.

Further confusion
The European Consumer Centre Ireland said that this matter wouldn’t fit under their remit and suggested contacting the Commission for Aviation Regulation (CAR), as it is the national enforcement agency. But it too said it did not have any legal remit in the area. The European Consumer Centre UK said “This is an area that we would seldom advise on as the experts in this field would be the Civil Aviation Authority who has already provided a comment. It also recommended contacting the CAR.

So, there you have it, none of the organisations in Ireland responsible for overseeing airlines practices want to get involved in monitoring airlines seating children with their adults despite the equivalent in the UK doing so.

Ryanair flies into oblivion the latest fiasco regarding delays

All you need to know about booking/complaining about holidays/flights various posts on laws, guidance, stories, templates etc.

How to Complain: The Essential Consumer Guide to Getting Refunds, Redress and Results!

 

For consumer rights, regulations, laws guidance, advice and template letters for complaining effectively for most situations GET THE BOOK! How To Complain: The ESSENTIAL Consumer Guide to Getting REFUNDS, Redress and RESULTS!

 

Taking Control: understanding bailiff rights

I sometimes get asked about your rights where bailiffs are concerned. This is quite a specialist area and so I asked Alison Blackwood of StepChange to provide some guidance.

Here at StepChange Debt Charity we are still hearing from our clients about problems with the behaviour of bailiffs and bailiff firms. In fact we were so concerned at instances of bailiff not seeming to follow regulations and standards, that we are working with eight other charities on a campaign “Taking Control” that is calling for further bailiff reform.

But, reform is a long-term aim. What happens if you are visited by a bailiff now? First of all, bailiffs are not the same as debt collectors: a debt collector doesn’t have any special legal powers to collect a debt, whereas a bailiff does. If you are certain you are being contacted by a bailiff, it’s good to know what powers they have, so you understand what they can and can’t do.
A door, control: understanding bailiff rights

Before you get a knock at the door
Before any visit to your home takes place, bailiffs must send you a letter called a notice of enforcement. This will give you seven clear days’ warning before they visit. This means as long as the organisation you owe money to (the creditor) has your current address, you’ll get a warning before the first bailiff visit, and a chance to discuss repaying the amount owed.

If you are not the person named on the notice of enforcement, you should write to the creditor and the bailiff firm, stating that you are not the person named on the enforcement notice. The letters should be sent by recorded delivery and you should keep a copy, so you can prove you have done this if you receive further correspondence, or a visit, about the debt.

If the bailiff then still turns up and is shown your copy of letter and of recorded delivery, along with ID such as a rent bill, that should be sufficient to turn them away. Although we’ve had examples where this hasn’t worked and the case has had to be escalated through the bailiff complaints process – which is another maze-like range of options.

When and where
A bailiff can only visit you at home between 6am and 9pm. There are some exceptions if they’re calling at a business which opens at night, or if a court has given special permission, but this is rare.

Bailiffs can visit any property in England or Wales where you live, or run a business. If you’re self-employed they can visit your business address. But if you work for someone else they shouldn’t call at your workplace. However, if visiting your workplace would let your employer or colleagues know of the debt that would be a “mustn’t” as it breaches the Data Protection Act They can visit someone else’s property if your goods are stored there, but they need to ask the court for permission first.

They can also take any goods you’ve left on a public road, including your car. They can check the DVLA records to find out if you’re the registered owner of a car.

Do you have to let them in?
In most cases a bailiff can only come into your house peacefully through a front or back door. They can’t break in without giving you a chance to let them in voluntarily. This means they must:

• Explain who they are
• Say why they’re calling
• Enter only with your permission
• Enter without using force

For most types of debt, when bailiffs first visit, they’re not allowed to:

• Climb through a window
• Break down doors or use a locksmith
• Push past you or put their foot in the door to stop you closing it
• Enter the property when there’s only a child under 16 at home
• Lie about who they are or why they’re calling

There are some cases when a bailiff is allowed to use force to enter your house if you refuse to let them in. For example, to collect an unpaid magistrates’ court fine; if you are self-employed, to enter your business to collect unpaid county court or high court judgements; or if the bailiff has been given a court order allowing them to use reasonable force to collect HMRC debts, like income tax. However, in most cases they have to ask permission from a judge before they’re allowed to use force, and evidence from the courts shows that this happens very rarely.

What will a bailiff do when they visit?
If you’re not able to pay the debt straight away, a bailiff will look for items which could be taken away and sold. They will try to come into your home to do this, but remember in most cases they can’t force their way in if you refuse.

They’ll make a list of these goods. The goods are then under the bailiff’s ‘control’. It is illegal to sell or give away these controlled goods until you’ve paid off the debt in full.

Bailiffs can remove controlled goods straight away, but it’s much more common for them to leave the goods with you. They’ll draw up a payment arrangement with you called a controlled goods agreement – usually they’ll ask for a lump sum straight away and they may allow you to pay off the rest in instalments.

If you miss any payments under the controlled goods agreement, the bailiffs can come back and remove the controlled goods to sell them – they can use force, if necessary, to take your goods at this point.

What can bailiffs take into control?
A bailiff must leave you with essential goods, including:

• A cooker or microwave, a fridge and a washing machine
• A landline or mobile phone
• Beds and bedding
• A table and chairs
• Appliances to heat and light your house
• Medical or care equipment

Some goods are protected and can’t be taken by a bailiff, for example:

• Goods which are owned by someone else – but they can take goods which you own jointly with someone else
• Pets and assistance dogs
• Tools or other equipment that are essential for your job or study, up to a maximum total value of £1,350
• A vehicle used by a disabled person

The bailiff must discuss the needs of you and everyone else in your household, and reach agreement about which items should be classified as essential and which can’t be taken.

Find out more
The law on bailiffs is complicated. The StepChange and National Debtline websites give more information on how best to deal with bailiff action, depending upon the type of debt you have. You can also find a fact sheet on how to complain about a private bailiff which includes sample letters.

Remember, if you need help with debt or are worried about a bailiff visit, please seek free advice from an independent debt charity as soon as possible.

And, if you feel pressured by bailiffs, campaign for change
You can share your experience on the Taking Control website. All stories shared are anonymously and the only data stored is your parliamentary constituency, so we can more effectively lobby local MPs for reform.

Biography
Alison Blackwood has been the Senior Campaigns & Policy Advocate at StepChange Debt Charity since May 2016, and is responsible for the organisation’s campaigning and policy work on civil procedure and enforcement. Before that she worked as a Senior Campaigns Officer at Citizens Advice, Strategy & Improvement Manager at London Borough of Camden and Head of Policy & Knowledge at London Voluntary Service Council. Alison is an RSA Fellow and has been a trustee of various small London charities and Chair of a local community enterprise organisation, Communities in Focus.

Further help
How to stop a debt being sent to the bailiffs from DebtCamel