If you are in serious financial difficulty it is possible that at some point you will need to deal with bailiffs.
There is a lot of confusion where bailiffs are concerned and this isn’t helped by the fact that although many people think that bailiffs and debt collectors are the same thing, they’re not. This means that much of the advice that people give is incorrect because they are talking about debt collectors rather than genuine bailiffs.
The Difference Between Debt Collectors and Bailiffs
The main difference between a debt collector and a bailiff is the fact that a bailiff is appointed by a court whereas a debt collector isn’t. That’s an important distinction because whereas bailiffs have certain powers, debt collectors don’t. In fact, because debt collectors have not been appointed by a court they have no powers whatsoever and you can refuse to deal with them if you want.
If the person you are dealing with is an actual bailiff it is a slightly different story because genuine bailiffs do have certain powers. However, those powers are not as extensive as most people imagine.
Checking Whether Someone Is a Bailiff
If a bailiff intends to visit you they must give you seven days notice of the intended visit. Usually you can stop them visiting by paying what you owe or coming to an arrangement to pay what you owe.
When they arrive, you should check to ensure that they are who they say they are. The first thing to do is to check their ID. You do not have to let them into your home to do that. You can ask them to post their ID through your letterbox or show it to you via a window.
If you are not sure whether their ID is genuine you can check that they are who they say they are in a number of ways. First, you can check the register of certified bailiffs or the Directory of High Court Enforcement Officers. Alternatively, you can phone the court to verify their identity.
They’re an Actual Bailiff – What Next?
In most cases, you don’t actually need to let a bailiff into your home. And unless they are collecting unpaid criminal fines, income tax or stamp duty, they cannot force their way into your home.
They are not allowed to enter your home if the only people present are under 16 years old or the only people present are vulnerable people such as people with disabilities. Neither can they enter your home between 9pm and 6am.
The can only enter your home via a door. That means that they are not allowed to climb in through an open window. If you have opened the door they are not allowed to force their way past you.
If You Do Let Them In
If you let a bailiff into your home you have the option of paying the full amount outstanding. If you cannot pay the full amount it may be possible to come to an arrangement with the bailiff to pay the remaining amount in instalments, although they are not obliged to accept any offer.
If you cannot pay the full amount or come to an arrangement to do so, they may take some of your property which they will then sell to cover your outstanding debt plus their fees. There are certain items that they are not allowed to take:
- essential items, such as clothes, your cooker or your fridge
- items that you need for work, unless those items are worth more than £1,350
- items that you do not own
They can, however, take luxury items such as a games console or an expensive television. If you are claiming that something is not owned by you, you will need to prove who owns that item.
If you pay them or if they take some of your property, you should make sure that you get a receipt. Similarly, if you have managed to agree to an arrangement to pay the outstanding debt in instalments, you should get that agreement in writing.
If You Don’t Let Them In
If you have not allowed the bailiff into your home that bailiff may take items from outside, such as garden furniture or your car.
But even if there is nothing of value outside for them to take, refusing to allow a bailiff into your home doesn’t make the problem go away. All you will have done is delayed the inevitable. And it’s worse because the costs will be mounting up as each time the bailiff makes an unsuccessful attempt to recover the outstanding debt from you, additional fees will be added to the outstanding balance.
It is essential that you check the identify of anyone who arrives at your home claiming to be a bailiff before you do anything else. You do not need to allow them into your home to check their identity. If they are genuinely a bailiff they will be happy for you to confirm that they are who they say that they are.
Don’t allow yourself to be bullied by debt collectors who claim to be court-appointed bailiffs. Unless they have been appointed by a court, debt collectors have no powers whatsoever and although you should speak to the organisation that you owe money to in an attempt to resolve the situation, you are better off doing that direct rather than attempting to negotiate with a debt collector on your doorstep. You should also make sure that any negotiation is done in writing so there can be no misunderstandings at a later date in terms of what was agreed.
If the person on your doorstep is a genuine bailiff, you don’t need to panic because that bailiff will still only have limited powers. However, whereas a debt collector who hasn’t been appointed by the court might give up and not bother coming back, a court-appointed bailiff won’t give up so easily.