Citizens Advice Cornwall is throwing its weight behind a campaign for an independent regulator to crack down on badly behaved bailiffs.

New figures from Citizens Advice England and Wales and debt charity StepChange reveal 850,000 of the 2.2 million people contacted by a bailiff in the last two years were victims of bailiffs breaking the rules.

Of the people affected by, or who witnessed a bailiff breaking the rules, one in five (18 per cent) had seen unsympathetic treatment of someone with an illness or disability, one in six (17 per cent) had a break-in threatened, and one in 10 had tools or a vehicle required for their work removed.

In the last two years Citizens Advice Cornwall helped 477 people with bailiffs, for debts such as council tax arrears, parking fines, and magistrates’ court fines.

In one example, from Cornwall, a bailiff company texted a client saying they intended to remove goods after one missed £20 a month payment for Council Tax.

The client is extremely vulnerable – a single parent with young children - and had recently lost her job because of mental health issues and had not yet received benefits payments.

Despite the client contacting the company, the bailiffs said there was nothing they could do and intended to recover the remaining £312 debt.

Rule-breaking bailiffs often cause people more stress, anxiety and financial hardship, according to the research. When someone had a negative experience with a bailiff:

● 7-in-10 reported increased stress and anxiety

● 1-in-2 experienced knock-on effects on their finances, with 1-in-6 people (17 per cent) taking out additional credit to pay the bailiffs

Bernie Buck, deputy chief executive at Citizens Advice Cornwall, said the government must step in and regulate the industry to prevent people suffering at the hands of bailiffs who flout the rules.

Mr Buck said: “It beggars belief an industry that can cause so much damage is not properly policed by a regulator.

“We see first hand the widespread harm the actions of bailiffs and the companies they work for inflict on people and their families. It must stop.

“The evidence is clear, the Ministry of Justice has no other option but to establish an independent bailiff regulator.”