Bailiffs and coronavirus restrictions: Do’s and don’ts
During the countrywide coronavirus lockdown in March 2020, bailiff visits were suspended, allowing people with debts in the UK to avoid the threat of a bailiff coming to their door throughout the first wave of the pandemic.
Now that the suspension on bailiff visits has been lifted, and various areas of the country are entering ‘circuit breaker’ lockdowns to reduce transmission of the virus, we wanted to explore bailiff visits; what bailiffs are, what powers they have, and what they can and can’t do within the latest coronavirus restrictions.
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What are bailiffs?
Bailiffs are Government enforcement officers who are granted the power to take back possessions and goods from people who owe money, as a way of settling their debts.
If you have any unpaid debts or fines, you will usually be given a notice – in the form of a letter – warning that bailiffs may be sent to your home to recover your possessions if you fail to repay or continue to ignore the warnings.
Bailiffs will only usually be deployed after the creditor (the person or party you owe money to) has been through the courts to get a judgement allowing them to pursue you.
Before bringing in the bailiffs, creditors may use debt recovery companies to seek repayment. These companies don’t have the same power as bailiffs, including the right to force entry, so creditors may turn to the bailiffs if they feel there is no alternative.
What kind of debts can bailiffs recover?
Once a creditor obtains the leave of the court to have bailiffs pursue you, those bailiffs have the ability to recover several different types of debt, including:
- County Court Judgements (CCJs)
- High court judgements
- Magistrates’ court fines
- Council tax arrears
- Rent arrears
- Child maintenance arrears
- Income tax
- National insurance
- Unpaid parking fines
Bailiffs will not usually have the power to recover debts which are covered by the Consumer Credit Act, including credit cards, store cards, payday loans, personal loans, and hire purchase agreements.
The only way bailiffs will be able to collect debts normally covered by the Consumer Credit Act is if the creditor takes you to court and takes out a CCJ against you, which you subsequently ignore.
How have bailiff visits been impacted by the coronavirus?
During the height of the pandemic in the spring, bailiff actions were paused for an initial five months after the UK’s three most influential debt charities – StepChange, the Citizens’ Advice Bureau, and the Money Advice Trust – called on the Government to put a stop to unsafe home visits.
A similar pause was placed on evictions over the same period, in a bid to avoid the unnecessary risk of transmitting the virus. Since the end of August, however, the pause on bailiff visits has been lifted.
While local authorities and creditors are now able to use bailiffs to recover unpaid bills or fines again, they are under strict instructions to adhere to social distancing guidelines, reduce in-person contact, and avoid unnecessarily entering homes wherever possible.
What sort of bailiff action have you received?
Bailiffs and coronavirus restrictions: Do’s and don’ts
Now that the ban on bailiff action has been lifted, it’s important to know what bailiffs are able to do within the current coronavirus restrictions, and what the restrictions forbid.
What bailiffs CAN do within coronavirus restrictions
Enter your home
Bailiffs can enter your home under current restrictions, however they must provide you with a 7-day enforcement notice before doing so, and adhere to social distancing guidelines while inside.
Enter your land
Even if a bailiff is unable to enter your home – for example if they haven’t issued a 7-day enforcement notice – there’s nothing to stop them from entering the land surrounding your home and removing goods belonging to you, like your car, in order to put towards your debts.
Operate in fixed teams
It’s possible for more than one bailiff to enter your home at a given time, however they should be operating in fixed teams. This means bailiffs will stay together – i.e. in pairs – to minimise contact between different sets of individuals.
Report inappropriate behaviour to the police
While bailiffs must make every attempt to adhere to social distancing while visiting your home, it is also incumbent upon you as the homeowner to adhere to social distancing. If a bailiff believes you are deliberately breaking guidelines, they are within their rights to terminate the visit, record your behaviour, and even report you to the police.
What bailiffs CAN’T do within coronavirus restrictions
Force entry if they are not collecting criminal fines
While bailiffs can force entry into your home if they have issued you with a 7-day enforcement notice, or if they are collecting criminal fines like fixed penalty charges, they have absolutely no right to enter your home if they are collecting non-criminal fines. In these circumstances, they can only enter if you grant them permission.
Break social distancing guidelines
Just as a bailiff can report you for breaking social distancing guidelines during a home visit, you have the ability to report them if they fail to follow social distancing guidelines themselves.
Raise their voice unduly
Under the latest restrictions, bailiffs will be unable to raise their voice while conducting a home visit. Shouting in close proximity increases the risk of spreading the virus, and so you should report any bailiff who raises their voice unduly while on your property.
Conduct a home visit while symptomatic
This may seem obvious, but bailiffs who are symptomatic shouldn’t be anywhere near another person’s home. If a bailiff is showing signs of infection, they should stay home, self-isolate, and order a coronavirus test via the Test and Trace programme.
It’s important to note that the above are guidelines for bailiffs in England and Wales. The guidelines on bailiff action are different in Scotland and Northern Ireland – if you would like to know more about them, visit the Government website to find out more.
How can I get protection from bailiffs?
The pause on bailiff action during the height of the coronavirus pandemic gave some respite to people struggling with debt. Now that the ban has been lifted, you may be worried that your creditors will want to pursue you for the money you owe.
Because bailiffs have to give you a written 7-day notice of enforcement ahead of any visit, you will have a week to get advice about how to protect yourself against them.
If you’re struggling with debt and worried about a visit from the bailiffs, or have already received a notice of enforcement, you should call Creditfix immediately on 0808 253 3451. It’s free to call and one of our expert debt advisers will be happy to talk to you.
Creditfix has years of experience handling bailiffs, and helps hundreds of people deal with problem debt every single day. We can offer you free, confidential advice, and our advisers are trained to handle your situation and offer you the best, most practical debt advice around.