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Problems with regulators

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The issues

A daunting pile of office paperwork.  Our thanks to the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) - image Crown copyright
Office paperwork . . .

However, on this page we deal with the problem (thankfully rare) of regulators who get things seriously wrong - so they're no longer the "good guys" you thought they were.

The regulators include council licensing departments, the police, trading standards (TSD), the Charity Commission and the ASA - see the Regulators page for details.  In theory they're all on the side of the good guys - they are there to enforce the law (in the public interest) and to act as our knights in shining armour.

The good news is that most regulators, most of the time live up to this image.  For example we've contacted numerous government organisations for information and advice, and (in general) we've found their staff knowledgeable, helpful, efficient and genuinely concerned.

However, now and again you find regulators who are far from perfect - for example they may not understand the law properly, they may be slow, inefficient, apathetic or unco-operative.  We've compiled this page to address this problem.

On the Problems and solutions page we give examples of the surprising lack of knowledge of some regulators concerning charitable collections - which has led to £ millions being lost by charities.

In defence of the regulators we should point out the following :

Nevertheless, despite all these difficulties, effective action can be taken against bogus collections - see the List of prosecutions page for examples.  Furthermore part or all of the costs of prosecuting can be claimed off the collectors.

In many cases the crucial issue is not whether a regulator has made an error - but what they do about it when you point it out - their attitude.  Do they co-operate, investigate, agree they got it wrong and improve their performance?

Example 1 :

Example 2 :

The individual officials or the organisation?




If you feel unhappy with the performance of a regulator, first explain the problem to them (calmly and tactfully) and ask them detailed questions.  For example, find out :

If telephoning (or meeting) them, keep a written record of what they say.  Also make a note of the names of the people you spoke to, their job titles, departments and the date and time.  Do this "contemporaneously" - in other words within minutes of speaking to them so that it's fresh in your mind and as accurate as possible.

In some circumstances it's advisable to enter into correspondence - for example (where appropriate) ask them to write to you confirming any crucial points they made on the phone.  If they decline, you can write to them explaining what you understood was said in the conversation and ask them for their written comments/confirmation.

At this early stage you may nip any problem in the bud.  Indeed you may discover that the regulator is acting properly and there has been a misunderstanding.

Making a complaint

Try to resolve any problem without resorting to complaining.  A complaints process can be confrontational, time-consuming, complicated and depressing.

Internal complaints procedures - If the regulator proves unco-operative, the next stage is to complain - initially verbally (by phone or face-to-face), then in writing.  Nowadays most regulators have an internal complaints procedure and usually they will supply a copy on request.  The procedure specifies how the organisation aims to deal with a complaint.  Often there are several stages - eg initially the section concerned, then the department, then any central department (for example the chief executive's in a local council).

Complaining to elected representatives - If you fail to get a satisfactory response via the internal complaints procedure, you can usually take it further ("escalating" the matter).  For instance many organisations have elected representatives who oversee and scrutinise :

Complaining to ombudsmen - If all this fails, you can complain to the appropriate ombudsman.  Ombudsmen are independent.  Below is a nice summary of the role of ombudsmen :

"[An] ombudsman's job is to consider whether something has been badly or unfairly handled.  Such mishandling might take the form of unreasonable delay, neglect, inaction, inefficiency, failure to follow policy or proper procedures, unfair discrimination, discourtesy, inconsistency, mistakes of law, or giving inaccurate information or advice."

The media

As well as following the complaint routes described above, you can pursue the matter in other ways - for instance by contacting the media (eg local newspapers, radio and TV).

See :

Freedom of information (FoI) / open government


When dealing with regulators, part of the time you'll want to get information from them.  Sometimes you'll then encounter the issue of confidentiality.  They may say they are not allowed to supply you with certain information.

See the page on Freedom of information for details of how to deal with this problem.

Problems with regulators :
Related pages and Useful links

Government - ombudsmen