Dealing with bailiffs is an unpleasant experience and hopefully most of you won’t have the pleasure of facing a bailiff. However, if the worst does happen and a creditor does send a bailiff to collect a debt from you, there are certain things you should know about your rights.
1. Different types of bailiffs
A bailiff is authorised to collect a debt on behalf of a creditor and there are several different types of bailiffs, all of whom have different powers;
- County court bailiff
- Certificated bailiffs
- Private bailiffs
They can be used to collect different types of debts, not limited to county court judgments, council tax, magistrates court fines, maintenance to the Child Support Agency and outstanding rent.
2. What’s a warrant of execution
A bailiff must be legally authorised to collect the debt and a warrant of execution is a document which allows a county court bailiff to take and sell goods to pay a judgment, as well as any court costs and fees. It can only be issued once a payment has been missed on a county court judgment.
3. Forced entry
You do not have to let a bailiff into your home and they are also not normally allowed to force their way in. However, there are several circumstances that the bailiffs are allowed a forced entry:
- If they have been peacefully allowed into your house on a previous occasion
- As a last result they are collecting unpaid fines
- With permission from a court if they are collecting unpaid income tax or VAT
- With permission from a court if they are County Court bailiffs entering a commercial property with no living accommodation attached
4. They can’t take everything
A bailiff can only take items from the person who owes the money and this includes things that are jointly owned. They are not allowed to take anything which belongs to family members or your children. They are also not allowed to take anything which is used to satisfy basic domestic need such as bedding, clothing, fridges and cookers.
5. Visiting time
Bailiffs sent to collect overdue rent are allowed to call only between sunrise and sunset but any other bailiff can call at any time they want. Most bailiffs will only usually call during normal working hours. Since 1st April 1998 local authorities are obliged to give 14 days’ notice of a bailiff visit to collect overdue council tax. Bailiffs working for the county court have to give you 7 days’ notice to pay the debt before going to your property.
6. Bailiff fees
The fees that a bailiff can charge vary according to what type of bailiff they are and what they have been sent to collect money for. If they are collecting council tax, they can charge £20 for the first visit and £15 for a second visit if no goods are seized. If you believe that a bailiff has charged excessive fees they can be looked at by a county court who can decide whether the fees are reasonable or excessive.
7. Who can I complain to?
If a bailiff has acted illegally or failed to provide the correct documentation you can make a complaint to the following:
- The company that they work for
- The creditor they are working on behalf of
- Enforcement Services Association
- Association of Civil Enforcement Agencies
8. Distinction between a debt collector and a bailiff
A debt collector agency is a company which has either bought the debt from the creditor or has been appointed to collect the debt on their behalf. A debt collector may threaten to send somebody to your home; however they don’t have the legal right to force entry into your house or to take goods from you.
9. Walking possession agreement
A walking possession agreement means that you’ve agreed that any levied goods now legally belong to the bailiff and can be removed at any time if the debt isn’t paid. If you sign the agreement, they’ll usually leave the goods with you provided that you maintain any arrangement you’ve made to pay the debt. The possession order is likely to be written but would be equally valid if it was a verbal arrangement.
10. What if you hide the goods?
It is not an offence to remove goods from your house or hide them before the bailiff visit, unless the bailiffs are coming because of rent arrears. If you decide to do this, you should try and negotiate with the creditor or the bailiff to pay back what you owe.
Remember that the bailiffs are not allowed to break open any locked cupboard or inside door or search you. If, after searching, they can’t find any goods to take, they become trespassers, and they should leave immediately. If they fail to do so in a reasonable time, you could take legal action against them.
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Please Note: This guidance is for information purposes only and is not intended to replace legal advice when faced with a risk decision.