Bailiffs – All You Need to Know to Beat Them with Guide, FAQs & More
If you have been struggling to pay debts, you may get a letter from bailiffs (officially known as enforcement agents) informing you that they will be visiting you in 7 days.
This can be quite intimidating and a lot of people are confused about how to deal with bailiffs when the time comes.
Today, we’ll be learning about how enforcement agents operate and what guidelines they have to stick to when dealing with you regarding your debt.
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What is a Bailiff?
Bailiffs are officially called enforcement agents these days but most of us still tend to refer to them as bailiffs.
Bailiffs are individuals who are hired to collect debts from you. They have extra-legal powers when they come visit you regarding your debt.
Some bailiffs work for private companies, others are self-employed and some work for your local council.
Bailiffs normally collect debts such as County Court Judgments (CCJs), Child maintenance arrears, Council Tax arrears and parking fines.
The Difference Between Debt Collectors and Bailiffs
I have seen a lot of people use the word ‘debt collector’ and ‘bailiff’ interchangeably and I want to lay this to rest since debt collectors and bailiffs have completely different powers.
A debt collector is an individual hired by a debt collection agency. They may visit your home (although this is extremely rare) and they may ask you to make arrangements to pay your debt.
Debt collectors do not have any kind of extra-legal powers that bailiffs do. A debt collector cannot seize your possessions in order to pay for your debt. They cannot even enter your home unless you invite them in.
When an individual says they are going to come visit your home in regards to your debt, make sure you confirm whether they are a debt collector or a bailiff. If they are a bailiff, ask them what type of bailiff they are, e.g., county court bailiff or high court enforcement officer, etc.
Your rights change drastically depending on whether they’re a debt collector or a bailiff, thus you must be sure about which one they are before they visit your home.
I’ve Received a Letter from a Bailiff, What Should I Do?
If you have been unable to make payments towards your debt, you may receive a letter from an enforcement agent informing you that they will be paying you a visit in 7 days.
This letter is known as a notice of enforcement and it’s very important that you don’t ignore this letter as this could make things worse.
The first thing you should do is to check whether the notice of enforcement is valid or not. The letter should have your correct name and address along with valid information about the debt you owe as well as the amount of money you owe. It must contain a 7 days notice informing you that a bailiff will be visiting your home in 7 days. It must also be sent to you by a registered bailiff.
The notice of enforcement will have information about the bailiff and you can look them up online on the Bailiffs Register to ensure that they are who they say they are.
If the notice of enforcement is valid, the next thing you should see is whether or not the debt is valid.
The debt would be invalid if it belongs to someone else or if you have already paid it.
If it belongs to someone else or if you have already paid it, you must contact the bailiffs immediately and tell them this. Contacting them via phone is ideal; Their phone number should be provided in the notice of enforcement.
Assure them that the debt is invalid and tell them that you will be sending them evidence of this as well. Tell them to freeze your case while you send them evidence. They are legally obligated to do this if you ask them to.
If the debt is indeed yours and it’s valid, then you need to start making arrangements towards paying back your debt. In this case as well, you should call the bailiffs and tell them what your plans are. This can stop them from coming to your home and will also save you additional bailiff charges.
If you can afford to pay the debt, you should simply call them and tell them that. After that you can pay the debt off. Be sure to obtain a receipt from the bailiffs once you make your payment so that you have proof in case it’s needed in the future.
If the debt is valid but you can’t afford to pay it all at once, I suggest that you seek debt advice from an independent charity. Seeking professional debt advice is a great idea in such circumstances as they are professionals who have a much better idea of what your rights are and what the next course of action should be depending on your unique financial situation.
Contact your bailiffs and let them know your situation. Assure them that you’re working on getting your affairs in order and setting up a debt payment plan in order to pay them in instalments.
You should ask them to freeze your case while you set up a debt payment plan for them.
What Should I Do if a Bailiff Visits Me?
If a bailiff visits you at your home, know that you still don’t have to let them in unless they are allowed to force entry.
Even if they are allowed to force entry, they have to use ‘reasonable force’. This would be through the use of a locksmith. This is, however, extremely rare.
If a bailiff visits you, ask them who they are, who they are working on behalf of and what debt they are supposed to be collecting.
All bailiffs are required to carry ID with them. Once they show you your ID, you will know their name and what kind of bailiff they are. If they are a county court bailiff or a high court enforcement officer, they will have to tell you this. You can then look them up to see if they are who they say they are. You can check their identity by:
- Checking the certificated bailiffs register if they’re a certificated enforcement agent.
- Checking the directory if they’re a high court enforcement officer.
- Contacting the court that apparently sent them if they’re a county court or family court bailiff.
If you are able to find them in one of these directories, you can proceed to talk to them through the closed door. Ask them to pass any documents they may have through your letterbox or under the door.
If they are unable to prove who they are, you can ask them to leave the premises. Tell them that you will call the police if they refuse to go.
Can Bailiffs Force Entry?
Bailiffs can forcibly enter your home for certain types of debt. These debts are mainly:
- Unpaid magistrates court fines
- Tax debts such as income tax
If they say they have the right to force entry, ask them to prove it. They will have to show you a warrant or ‘writ’ from the court along with information about your unpaid magistrates court fines or tax debt. Scan the document to ensure all information is correct.
As mentioned earlier, even if they have the right to forcibly enter your home, they still have to use ‘reasonable force’, i.e., through a locksmith.
They cannot kick open your door or smash windows in order to get in. If anything like this happens to you, you can report them.
Can Bailiffs Come for Catalogue Debt?
Bailiffs are not allowed to forcibly enter your home for most other types of debt. This includes council tax arrears, credit card debt, unpaid parking tickets, catalogue debt, etc.
What can Bailiffs Take?
While bailiffs do have the right to seize some of your possessions in order to secure the debt, they can’t just seize anything they want.
Examples of Items Bailiffs Cannot Take
- Items belonging to someone else, e.g., your roommates, your children, your spouse, etc.
- Items that you need in order to make a living or for your studies having a total value of up to £1,350
- A Motability vehicle
- A vehicle with a valid Blue Badge
They also cannot take items that fulfill your basic domestic needs. Things such as washing machines, cookers, mobile phones, beds, tables and chairs are all examples of items that bailiffs cannot seize.
Can Bailiffs Take My Belongings for Someone Else’s Debt? What Should I Do if They Try to?
Bailiffs can take only the possessions that belong to the debtor.
If the debt is someone else’s and they’re trying to take your belongings, you can prove to them that the item belongs to you and not the debtor. You can do this by showing them a bill or a credit card receipt of the product.
If they take it anyway, you should write to them and send them evidence as to why they did not have the right to take the item.
If they still don’t budge, then you can write to the creditor.
Can Bailiffs Take My Belongings for My Son’s Debt?
No. As I mentioned above, bailiffs can take only the belongings that are in possession of the debtor. This fact does not change if the debtor is your son.
What is a Controlled Goods Agreement?
When a bailiff first visits your home, they will not attempt to take your goods straight away. Instead, they will make an inventory of the items they can take and sell in order to pay for your debt.
This is what’s called ‘taking control’ of your goods. If you are unable to make payments towards your debt, they will come back and seize the items they made a list of and sell them off in order to pay for your debt.
A Controlled Goods Agreement states that a bailiff (high court enforcement officer) will not seize your goods if you keep making your monthly debt repayments that have been agreed upon.
Step 1: Taking Inventory
The first step in the process of making a controlled goods agreement is the making of the inventory. The bailiff will do this by going around your home and writing down all items they take control of.
You are allowed to view this inventory list and you should make sure that the bailiff isn’t writing down something they don’t have the right to. Ask them to be as detailed as possible about what they’re taking control of so that there is no confusion.
Tell them to erase or cross off any item that they don’t have the right to seize control of. Also write “does not belong to me” or “not mine” next to any item they’ve listed that isn’t yours.
Developing a Debt Repayment Plan
Next, you will need to agree to a repayment plan towards your debt. This is a monthly plan where you’ll be making payments towards your debt until all of it has been paid off.
Take note of your income and expenditures and offer the bailiff a monthly amount that you feel you will be able to stick to. Do not sacrifice basic living costs and essential expenditures in order to pay off your debt.
Never feel pressured to pay the bailiffs a higher amount than you can afford to. If the bailiff tries to get you to agree to a higher amount, show them proof of your budget and let them know that this is all you can afford.
If you feel that you are being forced to agree to an unfair payment plan, you can complain about the bailiff.
You will most likely have to agree to a repayment plan and you won’t have a lot of time to think when the bailiff is standing in your house.
Thus, I think it’s a good idea that when you receive your notice of enforcement, you contact an independent charity immediately and seek debt advice from them. They will analyse your situation and tell you a monthly amount which would be both affordable to you as well as acceptable to the bailiffs.
3. Checking if the Agreement is Valid
The last thing you should do before signing the agreement is to check carefully whether it’s valid or not.
You should check your name and address as well all information about the debt you owe. You must also check whether the terms of your repayment plan have been listed properly. Lastly, also check whether all of the items listed within the inventory are items that the bailiff has the right to take.
If the agreement is valid, you can sign it and then your repayment plan will begin. Be sure to stick to it every month in order to keep your belongings safe.
If you don’t agree with the terms of the agreement, e.g., the bailiff has listed items that they shouldn’t have, you can choose to refuse the agreement. While the bailiff has the right to take your belongings and sell them if you don’t agree to the agreement, it’s unlikely that they will do this.
In most cases, you will have the chance to talk to them to reach terms that both of you can agree to.
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Bailiffs have a lot more powers than debt collectors and it’s definitely a nerve-wracking experience when you get a visit from one.
However, planning is key. You will receive a 7 days notice before they visit you and you can use this time to seek debt advice and plan accordingly so that you are one step ahead of them every time.
With the right planning and research, you can avoid being taken advantage of and can lead yourself straight to financial freedom.