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Bailiffs - A Guide | Who they are, and what they can and cannot do.

by The Bankruptcy Service

Posted on November 10, 2014 at 9:00 AM


Bankruptcy Assets

Bailiffs, debt collectors, enforcement agents – call them what you will (and they are not all the same thing), they are people that strike fear into many that struggle with debt (and a few who don’t) or those considering bankruptcy. Here’s a few things you may need to know:

A bailiff is often referred to as an enforcement agent, and the job of a bailiff is to act under instructions, either by a landlord to enforce an eviction, or by a creditor to recover a debt or fine, or to repossess goods in order to enforce an injunction.

The bailiff has the power to take your possessions and sell them to raise funds to pay off debts owed to your creditor.

Why Would A Bailiff Visit?

This would happen if you don’t pay your debts, be it a council tax bill, court or parking fine, county court or family court judgment. You would get advanced notice of a visit, which is usually at least seven days, and thus you have time to take steps to prevent them knocking on your door. For many, this may be a contributory factor in considering bankruptcy or an alternative debt management plan.

Bailiffs collect the following debts:

  • council tax and business rates
  • parking penalties
  • county court judgements (CCJs)
  • high court judgements
  • magistrates' court fines and compensation orders
  • child support
  • maintenance
  • income tax, national insurance and VAT
  • business rent.

If someone comes to collect a debt other than those listed above, it is not a bailiff.

As you receive notice, this gives you an opportunity to act and prevent the visit. This would require contacting your creditor and arranging a payment schedule. Another way to prevent a visit would be to dispute the claim, though obviously you’d need valid grounds to do this. Bankruptcy would not allow creditors to pursue an individual through bailiffs and thus remove this threat, though of course it would come with other restrictions, including the seizure of assets.

If you have received notification telling you a bailiff is going to call at your house, you may be able to negotiate some sort of repayment to the lender (your creditor) before they call, as anlternative route to bankruptcy/debt management plans/bailiffs. If the bailiff is still coming, try and have a witness there, note down everything said, and if you are not there, inform anyone who will be there that the visit is expected, so that they can act accordingly. If you don’t want to provide access to your property, don’t leave doors and windows open, as this would allow the bailiff “peaceful entry”.

If the bailiff is acting for a debt which has gone to either the county court or High Court, you are permitted to apply to the court to have the action suspended. Relevant forms may need to be filled in and some offer of payment made. In the High Court you will need to apply for a Stay of Execution.

Types of bailiff:

Private: As mentioned elsewhere, most bailiffs are private. This means they could be self-employed, employed by a private firm or hired by another organisation. They will collect council tax arrears, parking fines and money owed to HMRC, but can be employed by any creditor to collect a debt.

County Court bailiff: They are directly employed by the County Court to collect unpaid CCJs.

Sheriff/High Court Enforcement Officers: They come under the remit of the High Court and work in geographical “county areas”. For county court judgment debts greater than £600, a creditor can transfer the judgment to the High Court for enforcement – unless it is a debt regulated by the Consumer Credit Act (a county court would deal with this).

Magistrates Court bailiff: They work for the Magistrates Court and are responsible to the clerk of the court. They mainly deal with money owed in criminal offences.

What Powers Do They Have?

It is important to note however that in most cases a bailiff does not have the powers to enter your property. They cannot force their way in, but if denied entry they do have the power to take things from outside your property (a vehicle being the prime example), and failure to comply could in the long run result in you owing even more money, so is not necessarily beneficial.

If you let a bailiff into your property, but do not have the ability to repay debts, then they may remove some of your possessions.

There are circumstances when bailiffs do have the power to force entry. This is to collect unpaid criminal fines, income tax or stamp duty, but this is only done as a last resort and not necessarily as standard practice – they will need a magistrates court warrant in hand. Also, if they have entered the property peacefully before, they may enter once more, by force if necessary.

Whatever the circumstances of the debt, they cannot force entry if only children or vulnerable people are present in the property, if it is between 9pm and 6am, or through any route except the door (or for a business, something like a loading bay would be acceptable). If you refuse entry, they will return another time, so it is not a problem that will go away.

In practice, when a bailiff calls they are more likely to try to open your door, rather than knock on it (walking into your house unannounced may not be polite, but it is entry by peaceable means). This is the reason why you should close and lock all your doors and windows if you think you may be due a visit.

Bailiffs can take luxury items (for example a television or games console), but cannot take someone else’s belongings or items you need such as clothes or a cooker or fridge. They cannot seize goods subject to a hire purchase or rental agreement. Removal of items in this manner is a more stark way of losing possessions, unlike something like a bankruptcy, because the bankruptcy process sees a receiver oversee the process and sells your assets where possible instead.

Once the bailiff is inside your house after entering peacefully, they will firstly search your home. They may not take items on their first visit, but will make a list of what they intend to take and sell (this is called seizing). Once in your house they have the right to access all rooms and can use force to gain access into other parts of the property. If denied entry (or if there is no one in), they may look through a window to assess possessions for a future re-visit. They will return a second time to take the goods and can only take goods to cover the debt. They must also leave the premises safe.

Goods in theory can be taken away immediately, but what will usually happen is that the bailiff and the debtor will come to an agreement known as a “Controlled Goods Arrangement” that gives you time to repay what you owe. This means you’re allowed to keep and use items listed on the Controlled Goods Arrangement, but you may not sell them because these items have been identified as items to be taken and sold at a later date in order to repay the outstanding debt.

This at least gives you a short amount of time in which to come to some repayment arrangement with whoever now owns your debt. If a bailiff has gained entry and the debtor does not want the goods to be removed immediately, this agreement has to be signed.

For a Controlled Goods Agreement to be valid the bailiff must have gained legal entry into your premises. They may not, as an example, list items on a Controlled Goods Arrangement they have spotted by looking in through a window.

County Court bailiffs entering a commercial property: Forced entry would need court permission, & entry must be to premises that contain no living quarters.

What To Ask Them:

  • Always ask for ID.
  • Always ask for a full breakdown of charges being presented.

Payments

Bailiffs can be paid on your doorstep – they do not have to enter the property. If you are only in a position to make a partial payment, speak to the bailiff and make an offer and discuss repayments.

The bailiff bay, but does not have to, accept your proposal.

Bailiff Charges

Fees are fixed for bailiffs. In most cases, if you owe less than £1,500 the fees are:

  • £75 when your case is sent to the bailiff
  • £235 if you ignore a letter from bailiffs and they have to visit you
  • £110 if they have to take your goods and sell them at auction

You’ll still have to pay the bailiff for any action they take against you - like storing your goods or using a locksmith.

If you owe more than £1,500 you’ll also have to pay a percentage of your debt as an additional fee each time bailiffs visit your home. With these additional costs, it is worth calculating whether other options make more financial sense to you. Whether you go for a creditor agreement, debt management path or bankruptcy, peace of mind is something to consider.

Complaints

You can challenge bailiffs if you think they’ve charged you:

  • the wrong fee
  • for something they haven’t done

You have the right to lodge a complaint for the above and if you feel you have been threatened or harassed, try and break into your home, or take goods that do not belong to you. Who you complain to depends on whether it is a private bailiff working for a private company or a court bailiff, who works directly for that court.

Most bailiffs work for private companies, even though some might do court/council work. Hence, you would complain to the company for whom they work. If this failed you could complain to the creditor.

You may also be able to complain to the bailiff’s trade association.

Court bailiff: fill in a court complaint form. Post the form to the court - you can find the address using court finder.

Some collection agencies may threaten to send someone to your home if you refuse to pay them the amounts they request. As a representative of a Debt Collection Agency, they have no powers at all. A debt collector is NOT a bailiff. Also, a debt collector should never pretend to be a bailiff to scare you into paying a debt. A real bailiff will have been through a certification process and will have been given special court authorisation to act.

If you need further advice, there are numerous options available to you. The Bankruptcy Service's other website pages contains a wealth of information on dealing with debt, be it via bankruptcy or other methods.Your local Citizens Advice Bureau is a good place to start. Another useful facility is Step Change, an independent Debt Charity. Their online advice on bailiffs can be found at the following links: http://www.adviceguide.org.uk/england/debt_e/debt_action_your_creditor_can_take_e/bailiffs_e.htm http://www.stepchange.org/Debtinformationandadvice/Whatyourcreditorscando/Courtaction/EnglandWalescourtaction/Bailiffs.aspx


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