Bailiffs (also known as ‘enforcement agents’) are individuals that visit your home and seize goods and possessions of yours in order to make up for your debts.
If you have been unable to pay your debts, they could show up at your home and take things that you own such as a vehicle, electrical items, jewellery, etc.
There are strict rules in place determining what sort of items bailiffs are allowed to take.
In addition to that, there are also strict rules in place about in what situation are bailiffs allowed to take your belongings.
For example, a bailiff must never force entry for council tax arrears.
Another example is that a bailiff cannot take goods belonging to you if the debt belongs to someone else.
How Do I Check if the Debt Belongs to Me or Not?
Before a bailiff shows up at your home, you will receive a letter from them. This letter is typically known as a ‘notice of enforcement’. It serves as a warning to you that you will be receiving a visit from a bailiff soon.
It’s important that you don’t ignore this letter, even if you’ve already paid the debt or if it’s not yours to begin with. If you ignore the letter and not take any action, a bailiff will definitely show up at your doorstep after seven days.
Hence, you have seven days to check whether it belongs to you or not and if it doesn’t, prove to the bailiffs that it isn’t yours.
Things to Know
Before you start addressing the notice of enforcement, you should know that if you:
- are disabled in any way or extremely ill
- Suffer from any kind of mental illness
- Have children or are pregnant
- Are under the age of 18 or over the age of 65
- Are dealing with a stressful situation such as the death of a loved one or unemployment
- Don’t speak English very well
Then, the bailiff will have to follow some additional rules to ensure their visit is as streamlined as possible.
Furthermore, if any of these conditions apply to you, you can get more time to deal with the notice of enforcement. You can also get more time if the notice of enforcement was not sent to you properly by the bailiff.
Checking Whether You Owe the Debt
Your notice of enforcement will have complete details regarding who the debt is owed to as well as how much you owe.
If you do not recognize it and are sure that it does not belong to you, then you’ll have to start working towards proving to the bailiff that the debt is not yours. The debt is not yours if it belongs to someone else.
For example, it’s common to get a notice of enforcement sent to you if your name is similar to the person that the debt actually belongs to. The debt is also not yours if you have already paid off the debt.
In both of these cases, you have to work towards ensuring the bailiff that it isn’t yours. If you don’t do this then a bailiff may show up at your home and attempt to take your belongings.
If you’ve looked at the debt in the notice of enforcement and are unsure whether it belongs to you or not, then I recommend contacting the original creditor.
The notice of enforcement will have details about the original creditor such as their name. You can use this to search for their phone number online and contact them.
Ask them why they believe that you owe the debt and try to clear any misunderstanding that may have occurred.
It’s also worth noting that if a bailiff is pursuing you in regards to a debt that is more than six years old, it’s a good idea to seek advice from an independent charity before contacting the original creditor.
This is because if it is more than six years old, there’s a chance you can dispute it and get it written off. It’s always a good idea to get advice from professionals regardless of whether or not you owe money.
How Do I Prove to Bailiffs That It’s Not My Debt?
If you’re sure that the debt does not belong to you, you must act quickly before a bailiff shows up at your doorstep.
What Should I Do if It’s Someone Else’s Debt Entirely?
If it’s not your debt at all, you must be quick to take control of the situation. The best course of action is to call the bailiffs via phone as this is the quickest and most convenient way to get in touch. Their phone number should be provided on the notice of enforcement that you received.
Explain to them that you are not the person to whom it belongs to and also assure them that you will be sending them evidence to prove what you’re saying. Keep in mind that this is something you should also do if the debt belongs to someone you live with such as your roommate or your spouse.
You can also ask them to put your case on hold while you are gathering evidence to send to them. A bailiff cannot refuse to put your case on hold as they are legally obligated to put it on hold if you ask them to.
You should send them evidence in the form of a letter. Their address should be provided in the notice of enforcement that was sent to you. Reiterate what you said to them on the phone by saying that the debt belongs to someone else. Provide them with evidence such as:
- A copy of your council tax bill from the last three months
- A copy of a benefits letter from the last three months
- A copy of your bank statement from the last three months
You can also opt to send a copy of these to your creditors as well. This is because the creditors are the people that have asked the bailiffs to collect the debt. Sending a copy of the letter with evidence to your creditors can help get this misunderstanding resolved more quickly.
It’s also a good idea to send your letters via a service that provides you with proof when the letter has been delivered. In that way, you will have proof that the bailiffs and creditors did indeed receive your letter. If they visit your home and try to take your belongings after you’ve proven the debt isn’t yours, you can dispute it and get them back.
What Should I Do if the Debt is Mine but I’ve Already Paid it?
If your debt is paid but bailiffs are still contacting you, you still need to prove to them that you have indeed paid the debt.
Otherwise, the bailiffs can take goods belonging to you regardless of whether or not you’ve paid what you owe. Of course, you can dispute this in the future but it’s better to stop it from happening in the first place.
The first course of action to take control of this situation is to call the original creditor. Ask them about the money you owe and remind them that you have already paid it off. It’s also a good idea to contact your bank to ensure that the payment you made to your creditor has gone through.
You can also call the bailiff even if you’ve called your creditor since your creditor may not inform the bailiff immediately. It’s definitely a good idea to keep both the creditors as well as bailiffs informed about the situation. You do not want bailiffs showing up at your door ready to take your possessions.
If your creditor does not accept the fact that you’ve your payments to them, tell them that you’re going to send them a letter with evidence of your payment. It’s a good idea to send a copy of this to the bailiffs as well.
Ask them to put your case on hold while you gather evidence and send it to them. Again, they are legally required to do so if you ask. The evidence could be any kind of proof of payment such as:
- A copy of the receipt for the final payment
- A copy of a written admission from the creditor that you don’t owe money to them anymore
- A copy of the debt statement mentioning your final payment
Again, it’s a good idea to use a service that notifies you when creditors and bailiffs receive your letter.
After you’ve successfully proven that it’s someone else’s debt, bailiffs must respect your right to not be bothered anymore. Bailiffs must cease contacting you after this according to guidelines.
Sometimes, people get goods taken away by enforcement agents even after they’ve proven that the debt doesn’t belong to them. If bailiffs take your goods like this, you have every right to launch a dispute and get your goods back.
What can Bailiffs Take if I Live with Parents?
Bailiffs cannot take someone else’s belongings for your unsecured debt. Thus, if bailiffs take your parents’ belongings, your parents can lodge a complaint against them and get their goods back.
Bailiffs can definitely seem intimidating as, unlike a debt collector, they do possess extra-legal powers. However, it’s important that you realize that bailiffs have to abide by a certain set of rules as well.
Your rights, as well as your goods, are most certainly protected if the debt is not yours. If a bailiff attempts to take away your goods, you can lodge a complaint against them to hold them accountable.