Bailiffs and you – what can they actually do?
Our advisors often get asked for bailiff help and advice. Understanding exactly what they do and do not have the right to do can be a confusing affair at the best of times, and is another reason to be stressed if you find yourself faced with bailiff action. In this blog, we hope to clear up exactly what bailiffs can do, and what your rights are concerning them, by answering a few of the most frequently asked bailiff-related questions.
First, though, we should point out that bailiffs are debt enforcement agents in England, Wales and Northern Ireland – not in Scotland. If you live in Scotland, Sheriff Officers are responsible for recovering debts on behalf of creditors. Sheriff Officers have a slightly different protocol to their counterparts elsewhere in the UK, so the distinction between them and bailiffs is important to bear in mind.
What is a Bailiff?
• Bailiffs, sometimes known as “Enforcement Agents”, are the enforcers of court judgements, and work to recover debts on behalf of creditors.
• Bailiffs recover debt either by taking payment directly from the debtor, or seizing possessions to sell.
• Bailiffs can work for private companies, the local council, or be self-employed.
• Bailiffs are most often called upon to recover ‘public’ debt. This can include:
• Unpaid income tax
• Unpaid VAT
• Court fines
• Bailiffs can be sent to recover debts associated with personal loans or credit cards, but this is much rarer.
• Bailiffs are different from Debt Collectors, who have fewer rights. For example, debt collectors cannot remove belongings from your home, and can only request that you make payment to them. For this reason, debt collectors are sometimes used as a threat by creditors, but they are rarely sent as they have little power to actually recover debt.
Can a Bailiff force Entry?
On a bailiff’s first visit, they may only enter your property by ‘peaceable means’. This means either being granted entry by you, or entering through an unlocked door. In this situation, you can deny the bailiff entry. Gaining entry through an unlocked window is not an acceptable form of ‘peaceable’ entry. Bailiffs cannot enter your property by any means between the hours of 9pm and 6am, or on public holidays. Additionally, bailiffs cannot enter your property if only children under the age of 16 are at home.
There are, however, some circumstances under which a bailiff is entitled to use force to enter your property:
• If they have a Magistrates Court Warrant for an unpaid fine.
• If they have gained entry by ‘peaceable means’ once before.
• If they have a Warrant, for example from the Magistrates Court, for collecting income tax or VAT.
• In an effort to seize goods which have been moved, from a property into which they were granted entry, to a different property.
• Entering by force, in practice, means returning with a locksmith, which bailiffs will actually rarely do. Bailiffs are not legally allowed to break down doors in order to gain entry.
What can Bailiffs take?
If a bailiff does enter your home, they will either take certain items in order to settle your debts, or list them as part of a Controlled Goods Agreement. This is an agreement made between you and the bailiff that you will keep up with a repayment plan. If you do not stick to the plan’s terms, the bailiff can return to seize the goods previously listed. Bailiffs can only seize non-essential possessions, such as:
• Games Consoles
• Non-essential furniture
• Vehicles (in certain circumstances)
Bailiffs cannot seize the following possessions:
• Beds and Bedding
• A Table and Chairs
• Cooker/ Microwave
• Washing Machine
• Phone (either mobile or landline)
Can a Bailiff take my Car?
Whether or not a bailiff is entitled to take your car depends on individual circumstances. Bailiffs cannot take your car if:
• You are a disability blue badge holder
• The car was purchased on finance and has not been paid off yet
• The car is essential for your job – a taxi driver for instance – up to the value of £1,350 (after this value threshold the car can be taken)
• The vehicle is your main home – for example a houseboat or camper van
• If these circumstances do not apply to you, bailiffs are able to take your vehicle.
What Fees do Bailiffs incur?
If you are visited by a bailiff, the fees associated with the visit will be added to the current total of your debt with the creditor who employed them.
• £75 will be added once the bailiff has written to give notice of their visit.
• £235 will be added following the bailiff’s first If you owe more than £1,500, you will also pay 7.5% of the debt’s value above this.
• £110 will be added if the bailiff returns to remove goods. If you owe more than £1,500, you will also pay 7.5% of the debt’s value above this.
To give an example, if you owed your creditor £3,000, and were visited by a bailiff, the first visit would cost you a total of £347.50 (the £235 set fee plus 7.5% of the £1,500 above the £1,500 threshold), plus the £75 fee charged for issuing the written notification.
Since these fees are added to your total debt, they can be included in whatever plan you choose to settle your debts. In a formal solution, such as an IVA or Trust Deed, a proportion of your debts are written off, and further fees on your debts frozen, so these charges may have little bearing on the amount you end up paying back.
How to Stop Bailiffs
Having Bailiffs come to your home can be an extremely stressful or even frightening experience, so it is important to have a strategy in place for dealing with them if you are at risk of being visited.
Citizens Advice recommend not admitting a bailiff to your property when they visit. Instead, you could speak to them through the door and call the creditor directly to work out a payment plan before your goods are seized. Ensure all of your doors are locked so they cannot enter by ‘peaceable means’.
Whenever you are visited by a bailiff, the first thing you should do is ask for identification, as well as for the name and contact details of the company who sent them. You can then check their identity:
• If they claim to be a Certified Enforcement Agent, check the Certified Bailiffs Register
• If they claim to be a High Court Enforcement Officer check the High Court’s Directory
• If they claim to be a County Court or Family Court Bailiff or a Civilian Enforcement Officer, contact the court who sent them
• If a bailiff cannot prove their identity, you can ask them to leave, and contact the police if they refuse to do so. Impersonating a bailiff is fraud.
If a bailiff claims to have the right to force entry, ask them to show you proof of this too. This will come in the form of a Warrant or Writ from a court. Always ensure the document is in date, and that your details are correct.
Bailiffs should never physically threaten or intimidate you, and if they do you should dial 999 for support.
If you need more advice about bailiffs, you can always speak confidentially with one of our friendly advisors by calling 0808 2085 198.
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.