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Civil disputes


The refusal to give something back which has been borrowed is not automatically theft. In some cases it might have to be resolved using the Civil Courts and you may need to seek a solicitor for advice.


B borrows C's power drill. B keeps promising to return it, B does not intend to keep it and it is just left in the garage, but B doesn't get round to giving it back. If this is pure forgetfulness, which goes on for a fairly long period (despite reminders) it would not be theft. However, eventually there comes a point where C has been deprived of their property for so long that B has no excuse for not returning it (perhaps a year or more) and the Criminal Courts could consider if B had stolen the drill.

If you have a problem with someone who has borrowed your property and has not given it back, keep a record of all the occasions you have asked for it and then ask a solicitor to send a formal letter asking for the return of the property. If the property is still not returned, there may be sufficient reason to justify making a complaint of theft to the police.

Every case will be different and it may be, for example, that the borrower claims the property was a gift. In circumstances like that, the police may not be willing to take action and you could go to the Civil Courts for help to get your property back. In the case of a borrowed item up to a certain value, it may not be considered economically worthwhile to pursue.

Below is a summary of the offence of theft, it is not intended to be a comprehensive explanation.

"Theft occurs when someone dishonestly appropriates (takes possession of or makes use of exclusively for oneself/someone else without permission) some property that does not belong to him or her and treats it as his or her own with the intention of permanently depriving the rightful owner of the property."


◾ B is sat on a park bench with their mobile phone on the bench next to them when C runs past and takes the phone from the bench and runs off with it.

◾ B takes an item from the shelf of a shop and leaves the shop without paying for it (shoplifting).


If hired property has not been returned it will only be classed as theft in certain circumstances.


B hires a wallpaper steamer from C for a week and fails to return it on the due date. This does not automatically mean it is theft. B must have somehow treated the steamer as if it was their own property, sold it on or moved from the area and taken the steamer with them and in doing so permanently deprived C of the ownership of the steamer.

In some cases, hired property is returned late or there is some misunderstanding. This is likely to be a breach of contract. It is advisable to make some basic enquiries into the matter (or speak to a solicitor) prior to making a formal complaint to the police, so you can give them as much information about the circumstances as possible. There can be a fine line between a civil dispute and theft.

If you are in any doubt (once you have found out why the goods have not been returned), contact the police or a solicitor who will help to explain the law accordingly. A summary of the offence of theft is below, although it is not intended as a comprehensive explanation:

"Theft occurs when someone dishonestly appropriates (takes possession of or makes use of exclusively for oneself/someone else without permission) some property that does not belong to him or her and treats it as his or her own with the intention of permanently depriving the rightful owner of the property."


Lighting a bonfire can be illegal if a person lights a fire, or directs/permits such a fire, on land and the fire/smoke injures, interrupts or endangers users of a highway/carriageway.

Otherwise, the smoke created by the fire can be a statutory nuisance, and the Environmental Health department of your local authority will be able to take action if the smoke is classed as a statutory nuisance. You need to record the details of who is lighting the fires, at what times, what the effects were and your details.

The council can stop the person from committing a statutory nuisance and failure to comply can lead to prosecution. However, if the fires are irregular it is unlikely that the local authority will take any action.

For more information please see the link to the Citizens Advice website in Related Information along with a link to find your local authority.


If the trespassers were on council land then the council will have the responsibility of removing it. If the rubbish is on private land then it will be the landowner's responsibility to remove the rubbish. The council can remove it, however there may be a charge.

See the website in related information to find your local authority.


Trespass is a civil wrong and the police only have powers to remove trespassers in limited circumstances. For example, if 2 or more persons are present on the land and residing there for any period, and any of those persons has caused damage to the land or to the property on the land or used threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour towards the occupier or someone connected with the occupier.

Another example is if those persons have 6 or more vehicles on the land. In such cases the police do have powers to direct the trespassers to leave.

Failure to leave when directed to do so by the police will amount to a criminal offence.


Getting a vehicle removed from private land can potentially be a complicated matter. However, we would suggest the following:

If the vehicle is in a dangerous condition e.g. it's leaking petrol or contains dangerous items such as gas bottles, we would suggest you contact your local police via 101 or 999 if an emergency response is required.

If you think the vehicle is abandoned, we would suggest you contact your local council via the link below:

GOV.UK - find your local council

Councils must remove abandoned vehicles from both land in the open air and roads (including private roads). However, local council policies differ in relation to this, so we would suggest that the matter is discussed directly with them.

If the vehicle isn't abandoned or in a dangerous condition, you will need to seek legal guidance from a solicitor or the Citizens Advice via the links in the Related Information section. The options here would include obtaining a court order from a civil court for the removal of the vehicle or pursuing a civil action for nuisance against the driver/owner of the vehicle. However, it is worth noting that taking legal action can be a long and potentially expensive process but you may have some cover in relation to this on your house insurance.

Points to note:

  • Under no circumstances would we advocate you merely pushing the vehicle onto a road and leaving it there, as you may commit an offence.
  • Don't damage/clamp the vehicle or have it removed by a third party without first seeking legal advice. If you do this, you may commit a criminal offence or the owner may pursue a civil action against you.
  • You may be able to obtain the cost of having the vehicle removed from the vehicle owner but you will need to speak to your legal advisor about this.


The law states that goods must be either of satisfactory quality, as described or fit for purpose. If goods have been supplied and they are not of satisfactory quality, you are entitled to either a repair, replacement or a refund.

These rights are valid for six years from the time of purchase. The solution offered by the retailer should be proportionate and take into account the usage and amount of time since the product was purchased. This does not include wear and tear.

If the problem has occurred within the first six months, then it is believed to have been supplied in that condition unless the trader/retailer can prove otherwise.

The retailer is entitled to see proof of purchase, which is normally, but not necessarily the receipt.

Trading standards services are delivered by your local authority and consumer concerns should be reported to the Citizens Advice consumer helpline on 0808 223 1133.

Please see the websites in Related Information for more details.


It is always best to agree a price for repairs beforehand, but when such situations arise it could become a civil dispute.

In these circumstances you are entitled to receive a service which has been carried out with reasonable care and skill, within a reasonable time, for a reasonable price.

If you feel that the price is excessive, it would be a good idea to get an independent written estimate of what someone else would charge to do the work.

If you still feel the price is excessive then contact the Citizens Advice consumer helpline on 0808 223 1133.


Many people install CCTV at their properties as a home security measure as it's an effective tool in fighting crime. Where CCTV is in operation and it only captures your home and garden then it will not be covered by the Data Protection legislation. However, if it captures any images outside the confines of your household, such as the street or other houses, the images will be subject to the Data Protection legislation and you will be required to register as a 'data controller' with the Information Commissioners Office.

Steps should be taken to ensure the CCTV is positioned correctly to avoid complaints or in some cases, accusations of violation of privacy or harassment. You may wish to put up a sign on your property informing people that CCTV is in use, although this is not mandatory unless your system records images beyond your own boundary.

In the first instance, it would be advisable to speak to your neighbour to see if it is possible to move the camera so that it does not point at your property. If this is not possible and you want to take further action you would need to seek legal advice from a solicitor.

See the links in Related Information for further guidance on the use of domestic CCTV systems.


If the retailer informed you that the perfume was Chanel, sold it to you as an original and you paid a reasonable price (so as to make you believe it was genuine), then you should contact your local Trading Standards department. They will take up the complaint on your behalf. Although the retailer could be said to have obtained your money by fraud, Trading Standards are the best people to deal with these matters.

This principle applies to most consumer purchases and therefore these factors can be considered when purchasing many products.
It is worth buying such products from reputable stores to avoid potentially harmful counterfeit products. To find your local Trading Standards office and to find out if a company/brand is genuine please see the websites in Related Information.


Trespass to land in most instances is a civil matter, and as such the police do not have the power to assist. Initially, the landowner should ask the trespasser to leave the land and if he/she does then all is well. If he/she refuses to leave the land then you will need to consider taking civil action. It could be dangerous for the landowner to try to remove the trespasser themselves.

The owner of the land could commit several criminal offences if he forcibly removes the trespasser and his/her property from the land. The best and safest course of action is to obtain a court order, which, if breached, can then become a criminal matter.

If the police do attend an incident such as this, they are merely there as observers for any possible criminal offences committed by either party. The police cannot assist in the removal of the trespassers or their property from the land in question. However the police do have some removal powers against larger groups of occupiers.

Any damage done by a trespasser, or use of threatening, abusive or insulting behaviour towards the occupier, may amount to a criminal offence and should be reported to the police on 101.
Trespass is very complex and guidance should be sought from a solicitor where appropriate.


This is family law and as such the police have no jurisdiction over the matter. You will need to seek further advice from your solicitor. It is likely that the case will go back before the court, who will decide what course of action to take.

See also the website provided by the Department for Work and Pensions 'Sorting out Separation' and the Citizens Advice's website (links in Related Information).


Bailiffs, also known as enforcement agents, work on behalf of the courts to collect debt. The last paragraph gives a summary of a bailiff's powers, they have the power to take your possessions in order to sell them and give money to your creditor if you have failed to maintain payments previously.

Whereas debt collectors work on behalf of a creditor or debt collection agency and do not have the same powers as bailiffs so in order to make sure they are legitimate you should ask to see their identity. This could be through seeing proof such as an ID card/badge, a contact telephone number, the company they work for or a detailed breakdown of the debts owed. The key difference is that a debt collector cannot take any of your possessions, but a bailiff can. They can only ask you to make a payment.  If you are suspicious that the person is acting as a debt collector but no ID is produced, this person could be committing fraud and you should contact the company they say they work for.

When property is being seized, it is your responsibility to prove if any property does not belong to you. If you are able to make repayments in cash, you may come to an agreement with the bailiff to make either monthly/weekly payments. If more than £1500 is owed, a percentage of this will be used as an additional payment when necessary each time a visit is needed.

High Court Enforcement Officers - responsible for enforcing High Court orders, will attend your premises at the first opportunity to give you a chance to pay off the debts.
Civilian Enforcement Officers - enforce certain magistrates' and crown court orders and can execute warrants of arrest. They can arrest without notice or give you time to pay the debt.
Certified enforcement agents - hold a certificate granted by the County Court. They can enforce debt from criminal fines, council tax home domestic rates, road traffic, child support etc.

There are rules that set out what a bailiff can and cannot do, please see the list below:

  • Must give an enforcement notice of at least 7 days' prior to visiting the home
  • Can only enter home by usual means of entry (for example through door, not window)
  • Cannot enter homes where only children (under 16 years) are present
  • Cannot normally call outside the hours of 6am-9pm
  • Cannot enter homes by force (unless unpaid fines from magistrates' courts or with a court order)
  • Cannot be used by landlords to seize property as rent arrears, without going to court
  • Cannot take household items that are considered to satisfy basic domestic needs such as; cookers/washing machine/fridge/clothing/bedding
  • Cannot sell goods retrieved from debtor, unless 7 days have passed since removal
  • Bailiffs are now to be responsible for proving to the court that a warrant must be issued in order to access premises that they believe has goods belonging to the debtor.

In some circumstances they may get permission to use reasonable force as entry, this means they can forcibly open a door/ cut a padlock, it does not mean that they can physically force their way past you or climb over walls/through windows to gain access.

For any further queries you can speak to your local Citizens Advice. You will find the link in the related information section, along with other helpful websites.

You should not ignore the debts; they will not go away. It is better to try and negotiate with the creditors.


CCTV cameras are used extensively in England and Wales and contribute to public safety and security and in protecting both people and property. They may be used for several purposes including:

  • the prevention, detection and investigation of crime
  • apprehension and / or prosecution of offenders (including images being entered as evidence in criminal proceedings)
  • public and employee safety
  • staff discipline.

When using CCTV cameras in public places there is a duty to comply with the Surveillance Camera Code of Practice. One of the main principles of the Code is that the use of a surveillance camera system must take into account its effect on individuals and their privacy, with regular reviews to ensure its use remains justified.

In situations where there is a particularly high expectation of privacy, such as changing rooms or toilets, the use of CCTV should only be done to address a particularly serious problem that cannot be addressed by less intrusive means. The use of such cameras should also be subject to review at least annually to ensure that it remains necessary.

If cameras are used then the shop/business should display a sign informing members of the public that cameras are in use, allowing an informed decision by the person using the premises.

If you feel that your rights have been violated then you may make a complaint to the manager of the organisation or the Surveillance Camera Commissioner (please see link in related information for information about the Surveillance Camera Commissioner)


A cheque can be 'bounced' for a number of reasons which include,

  • insufficient funds in the account its being drawn on,
  • it has been cancelled by the drawer (the person who wrote the cheque) or
  • a technical reason (unsigned, wrong date, amount etc)
  • fraud (maybe it is a stolen cheque).

Usually, if a cheque is 'bounced' the banking institution will write further instructions on the cheque such as 'Refer to Drawer Re-present' or 'Refer to drawer'.

If it states 'Refer to Drawer Re-present' then you can re-present the cheque again up to a maximum of 3 times although the bank does usually re-present the cheque before sending it back to you. Your bank may charge a fee for this.

If it states 'Refer to Drawer' then the cheque is effectively cancelled and cannot be re-presented. You need to get another cheque from the person or get them to give you cash.

If someone you do not know sends you a cheque, then you should wait until it has cleared before drawing out the money or releasing any goods.

Be very clear when speaking to your bank about what you mean. The bank may allow you to draw funds on the cheque before it has cleared so should the cheque subsequently bounce you will be out of pocket.

When you speak to the bank about a cheque clearing, make sure they are aware that you mean that there is no danger of the cheque being returned unpaid and it has been honoured. The only way to really ensure that a cheque has been paid is to ask your bank to 'specially present' the cheque, there will be a charge for this and it may vary from bank to bank. If the cheque is a small amount then it may not be worthwhile but if it is a substantial amount and you are releasing goods then it could be beneficial.

If you suspect that a fraud has taken place, then you should notify your bank who will advise you to report the matter to your local police force. You can do so via 101 and an operator will connect you to the relevant department.


The police may be able to assist in certain circumstances. They will not however get involved in civil property disputes and you should seek advice from a lawyer or Citizens Advice with regards to this.

If the other party agrees to your proposed action e.g. the collection of belongings, but you are concerned for your safety, a police officer may accompany you to prevent a breach of the peace. Where possible the police will check that the other party agrees to the proposed action and may explore any alternatives e.g. meeting at a neutral location to exchange belongings. If the other party does not agree to the proposed action, then it would be advisable not to attend due to the risk of provoking a breach of the peace, and to contact a solicitor or Citizens Advice instead regarding alternative options.

For most forces you must have your own form of transport to and from the address. You need to go to the station which covers the area of the house where the belongings are. Unfortunately, it is not a high priority for police so you may have a long wait.

It is advisable to speak to your local station as some forces will have different policies. You can contact them via 101 or the link here Q727.


If you're the driver of a mechanically propelled vehicle (car, motorcycle, bus, lorry etc.) that's involved in an accident on a road or public place and:

  • a person, other than yourself, is injured
  • damage is caused to another vehicle or to someone else's property - including street lamps, signs, bollards etc.
  • an animal, other than one in your own vehicle/trailer, has been killed or injured (animal means any horse, cattle, ass, mule, sheep, pig, goat or dog)

You must stop and provide your details and in some cases produce your insurance certificate. If you don't you must report the matter to the police - it's against the law not to. For a fuller explanation of accident law see Q894.

Some car parks can be classed as public places e.g. supermarket car parks. However, car parks belonging to private organisations where members of the public would not ordinarily be permitted may not be classed as public places and accidents occurring there should be reported directly to your insurance company. If in doubt it is better to report the matter to the police and be guided by their advice.


It depends on the circumstances as to whether the police can become involved, however, if the video or photo is of a child (a person under the age of 18) and is indecent, then the police will become involved regardless of the circumstances (see below).

Revenge porn is the publication of explicit material portraying someone who has not consented to the image or video to be shared. It is an offence to disclose a "private sexual photograph or film" without the consent of the person depicted in the content, and with the intent to cause them distress.

A person found guilty of this offence will face a fine or even imprisonment.

If the circumstances do not fit the above offence, i.e. there is no intent to cause distress but the photo/video is, for example, on one of the social networking websites, you could speak to the administrator of the internet site who may remove the material. Otherwise, you would need to obtain a restraining order from the courts to order the removal of the material. You should seek advice from the Citizens Advice or a solicitor about this matter before going ahead. 

With regards to showing photo/video footage of yourself without your permission and there is no intent to cause distress, if you are over 18, the footage needs to be classed as grossly offensive or indecent, obscene or menacing character (the legal threshold of which is quite high and would not normally cover what could be classed as merely offensive).

If you are under 18 then the footage needs to be classed as indecent before the police can become involved.


A squatter is a person who lives in a property without the owner's permission. Squatting in a residential property is a criminal offence under the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012, and carries a maximum penalty of six months' imprisonment, a £5,000 fine, or both. A brief summary of this offence is below:

1. The offence only applies to residential properties (which includes temporary or moveable structures).

2. The squatter must have entered the building as a trespasser (i.e. without the owner's permission); they must know (or ought to have known) that they are trespassing; and they must live or intend to live in the property for any period of time.

3. The squatting offence does not apply to legitimate tenants who fall behind with payments or refuse to leave at the end of their tenancy agreement (even if they leave and re-enter the building). See Q46 and Q47 for further information regarding these situations.

If you find squatters in your home or any other residential building, you should report the matter to your local police force.


Getting the police involved in this type of issue is not always the best thing to do in the first instance, as it can escalate the issue and cause more problems for both parties.

The best thing to do, where possible, is to speak to your neighbour about the problem and try and resolve it between yourselves. If you have tried, or feel that, for whatever reason, it is not an option then you should speak to your local neighbourhood policing team.

If you keep the ball and refuse to give it back then you may eventually end up facing prosecution yourself as you are technically committing theft.


In situations of this nature one person may have bought the vehicle, whilst the other may be shown as the registered keeper. This may give rise to a situation in which one person requires the other to return the vehicle and if they don't the person may allege they have stolen it. If this situation arises there are a number of points that you need to bear in mind.

Theft – in relation to theft, it is an offence for a person to dishonestly appropriate property belonging to another with the intention of permanently depriving the other of it. It is not dishonest if a person has a genuine belief (the belief is a subjective test) that:

a. he/she had a legal right to the property, whether a legal right exists or not is not the issue, or

b. the other person would consent if he knew of the taking and the circumstances of it, or

c. the owner could not be traced by taking reasonable steps, (a matter for a court to decide).

However, the vast majority of these cases are not theft. They are civil disputes and for this reason we would initially suggest that you speak to a solicitor or someone from the Citizens Advice via the link below:

If they advise you to report the matter to the police, you can do so via the non-emergency 101 number.

Ownership of vehicle – whether a person is the owner of a vehicle is a question of fact for a court to decide. Relevant facts are the way the person treats/uses the vehicle, whether they have insurance for it and whether they have spent money on its purchase/upkeep etc. In the case of a car used by a married couple, ownership of any property is usually classed as joint. For an explanation of the difference between the 'owner' of a vehicle and the 'registered keeper' of a vehicle see link below:

Civil dispute
- in a civil dispute over ownership of a car, if you are the legal owner of the vehicle and your ex has it, you can either require its return and seek a court order to this effect or sue them for its cost. You will need to seek legal advice from a solicitor to do this.

Police involvement – the police will only become involved in situations of this nature if a criminal offence has been/is about to be committed. Therefore, if your ex threatens you or you have been advised to report the matter as theft etc., you would be justified in calling the police on 101 for a non-emergency response or 999 for an emergency response.

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