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04.05.2017

Stop Bailiffs & Collection Agents: Know Your Rights

It has been shown through countless studies that debt can be a major contributing factor toward stress and the medical conditions linked to stress. When the demands for money grow, so does that pressure.

When debt becomes tragedy

Tragically, at the end of April, the assistant coroner for south London expressed concern relating to debt-collection agency’s practices in relation to the suicide of Jerome Rogers, a young man who took his own life after being unable to pay money owed for outstanding parking tickets. Jerome’s GP told the inquest that he had no history of mental illness but there was evidence “he was stressed by being in debt.”

Jerome was a courier, whose job involved delivering blood supplies to London hospitals. The bailiff handling Jerome’s case clamped the motorcycle he used for his job when he was unable pay – leaving him unable to work.

Jerome’s mother, Tracey, has since spoken out about debt-collection practices and how her son’s death has opened her eyes to the steps that bailiffs can take. At Creditfix we can provide help with bailiffs and believe it’s vitally important that everyone understands what debt-collectors and bailiffs can and can’t do – there is always a solution to debt problems, but fearing the worst can drive people toward desperate measures.

Which is which?

Although the terms are often used interchangeably, a debt-collector and a bailiff are actually two distinctly different roles with different powers.

What is a debt-collector?

A debt-collector should not be confused with a bailiff. Occasionally a debt-collector will visit your home but this is not to enter, seize your goods, force you to pay, threaten you or pressure you into payment. They have no legal right to do any of those things.

A debt-collector should carry ID and be willing to show you that. They should have knowledge of who they are representing and who passed the debt to their collection agency. If you have any doubts about who the debt-collector says they are or the debt they are looking to discuss, you should close the door and contact the company by telephone instead.

A debt collector will sometimes look to collect a payment from you, again, you are under no obligation to pay that person and may prefer to do so directly with the company over the telephone instead – if you do make payment directly to the debt-collector it is vital you receive a receipt – and keep it for future reference.

To be clear, a debt collector is not a bailiff and impersonating a bailiff can be a criminal offence. If you are unsure – call the company in question and talk to them about the action they’re taking.

What is a bailiff?

There are different types of bailiff, when it comes to personal debt, you’re most likely to be dealing with a County Court bailiff. They deal with most types of debt that a person or business are likely to owe, including debts relating to:

  • Council tax and business rates
  • Child maintenance
  • Court judgements (that could be county court, magistrates court or high court)
  • Income tax, VAT and national insurance
  • Parking fines
  • Business rent
  • Some benefit overpayments

You will only deal with a bailiff after warnings and an application for a county court judgement (CCJ) by the company or organisation you owe money to. A bailiff is formally known as an ‘enforcement agent’ and may refer to themselves as such.

What can a bailiff do?

A bailiff will only visit after getting in touch by sending a letter called a ‘Notice of Enforcement’ to inform you of their planned visit. You should have at least a week between the notice arriving and the bailiff visiting – allowing for time to contact the creditor and make some payment arrangement that will prevent the visit.

If a bailiff does visit, there are strict guidelines around what they can do. They must introduce themselves and explain their visit. They can only enter with your permission.

Bailiffs – Gail Porter from Creditfix on Vimeo.

What can’t a bailiff do?

There is an image of a bailiff as someone who can kick a door open, push past any occupant and begin taking valuable items. This is not the case. A bailiff must not:

  1. Enter your home without permission
  2. Force entry unless collecting a criminal fine, tax or to remove goods following a breach of controlled goods agreement
  3. Force entry on their first visit
  4. Force entry without the correct warrant
  5. Enter your home if the only person at home is aged 16 or under
  6. Enter your home if the only person at home is disabled
  7. Enter through any means other than the door
  8. Visit your property between the hours of 9pm and 6am

But the situation can change

It is important to know that your rights change if you allow a bailiff entry to your property. When inside your house a bailiff can enter each room and document items of value that could later be auctioned to recoup some of the money owed. This list can be secured against a payment plan that you make – meaning those items can be collected should you not make payments as required, this is known as a ‘controlled goods agreement’.

Your situation can also change if you have ignored previous bailiff visits – bailiffs and the organisations they represent can apply for a ‘notice of entry’ though the courts if they cannot resolve the situation with you – meaning their right to force entry can change. While it might feel uncomfortable it is recommended that you try to reach some agreement with a bailiff the first time they visit as your rights change if this first visit is ignored.

What can and can’t be taken?

Again, there are strict rules around what can and cannot be seized as part of this controlled goods agreement. If the payment plan is not adhered to a bailiff can seize:

  1. TVs
  2. Computers
  3. Games consoles
  4. Jewellery
  5. Cash
  6. Vehicles

However, there are items a bailiff cannot seize – widely covered by the term ‘essential items for basic domestic needs’ they include:

  1. White kitchen goods
  2. Bedding
  3. Telephones
  4. Items needed to care for children or disabled persons
  5. Computers (unless used for study or work)

During the documentation of goods, the bailiff should look to discuss domestic needs with you so they are not taking anything that will impede your work, study or the lives or anyone vulnerable in the property.

Overview

The procedures and practices noted here are not exhaustive – but should give you an idea of your position when you receive notice of a debt-collector or bailiff visit. If you are a business owner and the debts in question relate to that business the situation can be a little different – particularly relating to the seizing of goods and a bailiff’s right to enter.

Don’t despair. No matter what your circumstances are you can get debt help & advice. If you have received a Notice of Enforcement you can call Creditfix immediately to discuss your situation and options. We’re here to help and offer free, impartial advice.

If you need more information about the options available to you in dealing with your debt, you can always speak confidentially with one of our friendly advisors on 0808 2085 198.