Bailiffs paying you a visit regarding your debt can definitely be a stressful thing to go through.
However, it’s important to keep in mind that you have rights and while bailiffs do have extra-legal powers, they also have to follow certain procedures and guidelines.
Bailiffs (also called enforcement agents) visit your home in order to collect debt from you on behalf of your creditors.
Unlike debt collectors, they have some extra-legal powers. For example, a bailiff is allowed to enter your residence if you’ve left a door unlocked.
For some types of debts, a bailiff may also be allowed to bring a locksmith to get your door open.
However, this is quite rare and it’s unlikely in most cases that a bailiff would do this.
Today, I’ll be talking about what rights you have when a bailiff pays you a visit regarding council tax debt.
How do I Deal with Council Tax Debt?
Council tax debt is a ‘priority debt’ which means that you will be required to deal with it before other debts such as credit cards. I advise that if you owe money to your local council, you should not wait for them to contact you. Instead, you should contact them first and ask to speak to someone in the council office.
Give them details about your situation and ensure that you’re doing all you can to pay off the debt as soon as possible. If you’re having trouble paying back your council tax debt, you can ask them if you can pay in smaller amounts.
You will most likely be asked to commit to a monthly payment schedule. If you can’t afford to pay back the council tax debt at all, you can try and get a reduction in the amount of money you owe.
If you need help with this, you can seek advice from an independent debt charity such as StepChange or Payplan. They will analyse your situation and help you understand how you can deal with your debts.
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What Will Happen if I Don’t Let Bailiffs in?
If you don’t let bailiffs in, they will simply leave. There is definitely a chance that they may return and attempt to gain entry again.
However, you must know that if you refuse to let them in and they try to forcibly enter your home, that is strictly against guidelines and you should report them immediately.
Some bailiffs may go and apply for a warrant. If they get that warrant, they would come back to your home and try to gain entry again. This warrant gives them the right to enter your home by force. The fee for applying for this warrant will also be added to the money you owe.
Can Bailiffs Force Their Way into My Home for Council Tax Debt?
In most cases, bailiffs can only force entry into your home:
- If they are collecting a criminal fine or taxes that are owed to HM Revenue and Customs.
- If they are to seize goods that were part of your controlled goods agreement but you were unable to make the agreed-upon payments on time.
Please note that a bailiff is NOT allowed to force entry to your home if a controlled goods agreement is not in place.
Even if they are allowed to forcibly enter your home, bailiffs typically very rarely use force.
Marston Bailiffs have a reputation for threatening debtors by saying they’re going to come back with a locksmith in order to gain access to their residence.
While it’s true that some bailiffs are allowed to gain access through the use of a locksmith, they can only do this when they have a warrant that specifically allows them to do this.
If a bailiff is threatening you with a locksmith, ask them to show you the warrant that states they have the right to gain access to your residence that way.
Can Bailiffs Enter My Home Without My Permission Through an Open Door?
No. The rule of thumb is that a bailiff cannot enter your home unless you or another adult lets that bailiff into your home. Once they have been inside your residence, they can enter any other time they want.
However, they are also allowed to walk into your residence without using force. This means that if they happen to find an unlocked door, they can walk in without needing your permission. This is called “peaceful entry”.
This is why it’s very important that when you are expecting a bailiff’s first visit or any visit at all for that matter, you should always ensure that all doors and windows are securely locked.
If you share your residence with other people, especially children, you should tell them not to leave doors or windows unlocked.
There are other things that bailiffs are certainly not allowed to do. For example:
- They cannot climb through a window to gain access to your residence.
- They cannot push past you when you open the door or put their foot between the door in order to prevent you from closing it.
- They cannot try to access the property if there is no one but a child under the age of 16 inside.
- They cannot lie about who they are or why they are visiting your home.
When enforcement agents visit you, it’s very important that you ask them for a detailed description of who they are and why they are visiting you.
You must make sure that the debt is valid and owed by you. If it’s someone else’s, you can ask the bailiff to leave.
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What Can Bailiffs Take for Council Tax Arrears?
There are certain types of items that a bailiff is not allowed to take. When a bailiff first visits your home, they will make an inventory of the items you have which would then become a part of your controlled goods agreement.
The agreement will state that if you are late in your payments or if you miss them, the bailiffs will come to your property, seize the goods mentioned in the agreement and sell them off in order to pay for your debts. These goods are usually sold at an auction.
When a bailiff is making the inventory, you must make sure that they are only listing the goods that they have the right to seize.
Bailiffs cannot take:
- Items that belong to someone else, e.g., your spouse, your roommates, your children, etc. If you see an item in the inventory list that doesn’t belong to you, write “not mine” next to it.
- Pets or guide dogs.
- Items that you need in order to make a living or for your studies. If something like this shows up in the inventory list, ask the bailiff to remove it.
It’s unclear whether or not bailiffs have the authority to seize goods that you have in your possession with the help of a Hire Purchase agreement.
You can definitely dispute it if they try to seize something like that from you. I recommend that if this is happening to you, you should seek advice from an independent charity such as StepChange.
Whether you will be able to keep that item secure or not will depend highly on a number of factors such as how expensive it is, what it is, how many payments you have left on it, etc.
Professionals at an independent debt charity will help you figure out what you can do to keep those items safe. They can also give you advice on how to deal with bailiffs in general.
What Happens If I don’t have any Goods that They can Take?
A bailiff may enter your property, see the goods you have and decide that they are not worth it to come with a van in order to seize them. Your goods might also not be enough to cover your debts as well as the costs of the van as well as any other additional charges. In this case, your bailiff may leave and come back at a later date to seize your goods. Your bailiff has 12 months from the date that the notice of enforcement was sent to you to seize your goods.
Bailiffs can be extremely intimidating but you must be aware that they have to abide by strict guidelines as well.
If you are aware of these guidelines and your rights, you can hold them accountable for their actions and also keep them in check when you’re interacting with them.
*Note: This is a real life example based on a customers’ savings data in October 2020.