What is a bailiff?
Struggling to pay council tax arrears, or have other personal debts piling up? Creditors may already have threatened you with bailiff action, but what does this mean?
Also called enforcement agents or debt enforcement officers, bailiffs can either be court officials or they can be employed by a private firm. They have certain legal powers to collect money for debts.
At an early stage they may ask you to pay what you owe. As action gets more serious, they may arrive at your home and remove objects to sell on and help clear the debt.
When they arrive at your listed address they will verify which items belong to you before removing them. Any money raised from the sale of goods will be used to clear your debts in addition to any bailiffs fees, which can quickly start to pile up.
Before they visit your home for the first time, a bailiff must give you at least 7 clear days’ notice.
Usually, creditors (anyone you owe money to) will only bring in a bailiff as a last resort. They will usually warn you before passing your debt onto a bailiff. If you can’t pay back your debts after receiving a bailiff warning letter then speak to the creditor to discuss any difficulties.
Bailiffs should only be used to collect certain types of debt including:
- Council tax
- Compensation orders and magistrates’ court fines
- Parking penalties
- Child support maintenance
- County court judgements (CCJs)
- High court judgements
- Business rates
- Business rent
- TV licence fines
- Income tax, national insurance and VAT
Yes, debt collectors don’t have the same legal powers as bailiffs and can’t remove anything from your home to repay your debts. If you’ve not had an enforcement notice or advanced warning of their arrival then they are unlikely to be a certified bailiff.
Bailiffs have to take special training and are properly certified by a court to collect debts. If in doubt, always ask to see identification and contact the firm they represent. Debt collectors often use intimidation tactics to get you to pay a debt, but don’t let a debt collector posing as a bailiff scare you into paying a debt.
Dealing with a bailiff can be stressful and scary. If you have received a bailiff warning through the post make sure you prepare. You can contact us and by working together we can try and tackle the debt before the bailiffs come knocking.
Generally speaking, you don’t have to let bailiffs inside your home on the first visit. There are strict rules governing bailiff conduct. On the first visit they can’t use force to gain entry, just peaceful methods (asking you to invite them in). They aren’t allowed to gain entry between 9pm and 6am.
Bailiffs are only permitted to gain entry through normal methods like:
- An open door
- Attached garage
They can’t enter:
- Through a window
- By climbing over a wall or fence
- By climbing over a locked gate or barrier
Don’t open the door to a bailiff. Make sure any children under the age of 16 know not to answer the door – bailiffs can’t enter a property if a child (under 16) is alone in the house. If you do open the door make sure you stand firm in the door way, bailiffs can’t push past you to gain entry.
If you have a car that’s not subject to a hire purchase or another finance scheme then make sure it’s not parked in front of your house or on a driveway. Park it in a locked garage or around the corner because bailiffs are permitted to take this away.
You don’t need to speak to bailiffs if you don’t want to. Bear in mind that any information you give them (such as what you own) can be used against you.
Ask the bailiff for their authorisation. The bailiff should have an ID badge or a court order relating to your address. If they can’t provide this then you shouldn’t engage with them.
Keep curtains closed so they can’t eye up possessions from the outside.
If you have the money to pay debts then you can do this through the bailiff. Just remember to ask for a receipt of payment.
Friends and family can help offer support and help you deal with bailiffs more confidently.
Get in touch with us immediately and we can provide extra advice.
If a bailiff enters your home, make sure you see identification and authorisation. If their paperwork doesn’t stack up then you are within your rights to ask them to leave.
If a bailiff behaves threateningly or harassingly then you can get action against you dropped. It can help to film a bailiff’s actions on a camera or mobile phone.
If a bailiff enters your home to find that a child under the age of 16 is the only one in then they must exit the property immediately.
If you can’t pay the bailiff they will start making a list of possessions that could be sold to pay off the debt. There are certain items that the bailiffs aren’t allowed to take. Once a bailiff has identified belongings that can be resold they become known as ‘controlled goods.’ They can be removed straight away.
Once the bailiffs have been in your home once, they can enter your home on other occasions with or without your permission (gaining entry through force) to remove or impound you possessions.
Once a bailiff has taken control of your possessions, they will be removed, valued and sold. You can make a controlled goods agreement, where you make regular payments, and your possessions won’t be sold.
Some bailiffs have the legal right to force entry to your home. This can only be done with some types of debt and the bailiff needs a court order granting them the right to use force. If the bailiff has no court order and forces their way into your home then you can complain.
Here’s some types of items that bailiffs can’t take:
- Soft furnishings, clothing, furniture, fixtures and fittings, household equipment and goods that meet a basic domestic requirement.
- Items or equipment that the debtor needs for employment, business, trade, their profession, study or education (this includes things like tools, books, telephones, computer equipment and vehicles), unless other items in the house don’t exceed a value of £1,350
- Goods owned by another person. But you will need to prove this with receipts.
- Items the heat or light the home.
- Hired goods (goods on credit sale can be removed as they belong to the person).
- Goods that belong to children.
If you have already allowed a bailiff into your home then they can force their way in on another occasion. They have a legal right to enter your home so you should let them in.
There are several reasons why a bailiff may re-enter your home:
- They did not meet the possession value on their first visit and want to check if you have purchased anything new.
- To look at items they have taken control of but not removed.
- To remove items that they have already taken control of.