Bailiff looks at a property

Bailiff Action? Should you Let Them In?

Many people are terrified of bailiffs showing up at their doors and want to know how to stop bailiff action. They’ve been renamed enforcement agents, but that doesn’t make them any less intimidating especially if that comes with bailiff action, especially if they are looking to get a controlled goods agreement.

After the bailiffs have been called, this article explores what follows, including the two most important regulations for dealing with bailiffs.

Know the distinction between debt collectors and bailiffs!

A bailiff is a person who has the legal authority to collect debts on behalf of a creditor. A certificated enforcement agent is an official name for a bailiff. Bailiffs can be officials from the county court or employees of a private firm.

They have the power to ask you to pay what you owe and may come to your house to take certain belongings (see below) to generate money owed to the creditor. Also, a High Court Enforcement Officer has powers bestowed on them by the High Court.

A bailiff can ONLY collect a debt if there has been a county court procedure. The following are examples of such debts:

  • Council Tax Arrears – If a local authority is seeking to recover money from you, they must first obtain a Liability Order from the magistrate’s court. After this, the local authority has the power to hire bailiffs;
  • County Court Judgment (CCJ) –  usually these may be for debts such as loans or utility bills, loans, credit cards or private parking tickets. The creditor must apply to the county court for a warrant of control after obtaining a CCJ.
  • Parking Penalty Charges – The county court will issue an Order for Recovery if the council applies to the Traffic Enforcement Centre at Northampton County Court.

If a debt hasn’t been to court but you get a letter from a debt collector warning of legal action, solicitors, courts, or bailiffs going to your home, it’s most likely at an earlier stage and they aren’t even near to bailiff action.

A debt collector can come to your home, but it’s uncommon. A debt collector is not a bailiff and has no legal right to come to your house. You don’t have to talk with a debt collector at home if you don’t want to. If you do, they won’t be able to take anything from your home or vehicle.

If you think you’ve been contacted by a bailiff or a debt collector but aren’t sure, reaching out to Become Debt Free right away is critical.

Bailiff Action – Notice of Enforcement

A Notice of Enforcement is the first step in bailiff action. A bailiff can’t visit your home without sending this.

If you haven’t received one, it’s unlikely to be from a bailiff who is entitled to collect your debt. If you’re unsure if the letter is correct because it lacks the appropriate words or some of the information is wrong, please contact Become Debt Free right away.

When this letter is sent, you will be charged £75 in addition to your debt. If they send additional letters after that, you will not be charged again.

Is it possible to prevent the bailiffs from phoning?

Before the bailiff can enter your home, he or she must wait at least 7 days after giving you a Notice of Enforcement.

If you want to keep them away, you have to act fast. It’s more difficult to prevent their arrival if you wait too long; when the bailiff comes to your home, he costs an additional £235.

There are three situations when you should go after this seven-day period:

1) You Don’t Believe The Debt Is Correct

It’s possible that you’re not the correct individual; you’ve already paid down your debt; or the amount is incorrect because you’ve paid it all or part of it.

You may be able to apply to the court to “suspend the warrant of control” and for parking penalty notices you may be able to file a late witness statement.

2) You Can Pay The Debt in Full or in Installments, Depending on your Situation

If you owe money and can pay it off in a few months or sooner, contact the bailiff to see if they will accept it in weekly or monthly payments. A payment arrangement may be the easiest way for you to proceed.

Don’t commit to repayments that are beyond your means – agreeing to pay off obligations which are too expensive will result in the bailiff coming back later when you can’t manage them.

3) If You are Vulnerable

The rules are meant to provide additional protection for those who are elderly, disabled or sick, as well as those with limited English skills, single parents just recently bereaved, pregnant women, and others. However, in practice, this does not always happen.

Do you have to let a bailiff in?

A bailiff can’t force entry into your property until you’ve previously allowed them in for a County Court Judgement (CCJ) (including all loans, credit cards, overdrafts, mobile debts, parking tickets), unpaid council tax arrears, automated penalty notices for traffic offences, and other such debt. If it does happen (bailiff force entry), then you are well within your rights to phone the police.

A bailiff can only enter your home under a few circumstances:

  • if they are collecting unpaid criminal fines from a court. (A fixed penalty for a car parking offence is NOT a criminal fine.)
  • they are collecting HMRC related debts such as income tax they have authority from the court to force entry.

Are you unsure or want some confirmation? Contact Us at Become Debt Free, who can inform you of your options.

When a bailiff is unable to gain entry, you should not allow them in.

The first important guideline when dealing with bailiffs is to avoid opening the door to them unless you have spoken with a debt advisor who claims they can enter forcefully.

It’s crucial that you don’t let a bailiff in – if you do, they’ll be back and possibly break in!

Bailiffs are not permitted to push past you, but why take the chance? Unless the door is locked with a chain, keep it shut and talk through the letterbox.

If you want to communicate with the bailiff, explain that nothing in the house belongs to you and that you have already paid off the debt, or that you’ve asked the local council to take back the council tax arrears, or even pay part or all of the bailiff’s fee through a letterbox or chained door. Alternatively, tell them you’ll call them later. If you’re handing cash over, get a receipt.

The bailiff may claim they can’t set up a payment plan unless they come into your home – don’t be fooled. If you let them in, they might refuse to accept the payments you are making. It’s easier to persuade them to accept a repayment schedule if they haven’t been inside your house.

If you want to set up a payment plan by phone or email, that may work.

If you don’t allow them in, they may send you more letters; they might return. However, it’s beneficial to know that subsequent visits will not result in an increase in charges. They may give up and return the debt to the lender as a result of their inability to collect it shortly. The debt is still there; it hasn’t been cancelled or written off.

Again, if bailiffs force entry – phone the police.

What if they tell you you’ll be imprisoned?

If the bailiffs are trying to collect council tax, you may receive a particularly harsh letter informing you that they will urge the police to send you to prison if you do not pay them.

Although it is theoretically feasible to be imprisoned for council tax debt, this happens less than 100 times each year, and the letters are usually very deceptive. They don’t tell you that if you can’t afford to pay your fines, the magistrates may discharge your obligation to pay the debt.

Don’t be afraid of one of these incidents causing you to enter into a financial commitment you can’t afford. Get some good debt advice from us!

Bailiff Action and Cars

When collecting a debt, bailiffs are generally permitted to take a car, van, or motorbike. There are some significant exclusions, though – they can’t take one if:

  • if the car belongs to someone else. Even if the car is registered in your name it may have been bought by someone else.
  • if the car is on finance – this includes PCP, HP, leased or there is a logbook loan on it;
  • if the car worth less than £1,350 and is necessary for your work and there are no buses etc
  • it has a disabled blue badge on the windscreen;
  • if it is also your home, such as a motorhome.

If one of these circumstances applies to your car, it should not be seized. Make this clear to the bailiff and bring any documentation you have, such as your car finance documents.

Bailiffs will usually demand that a vehicle rather than items from your home since it is more valuable. If they take your car, it will be sold at auction, and you may end up losing a lot of money. As a result, the second major lesson to remember when dealing with bailiffs is to keep your car somewhere safe.

Planning for a bailiff visit

When you suspect that a bailiff is on the way, inform everyone in the home not to open the door unless they know who it is. It’s embarrassing telling your parents or flatmates that you have a bailiff issue, but it’ll be much worse if they let a bailiff into their house and attempt to take belongings from them.

Keep doors locked or secured with a chain. It’s a good idea to keep downstair windows shut. Bailiffs should not be allowed entry through a window, but keeping them closed will make you and your family feel safer.

Having a friend or a family member there to support you may be beneficial.

If you have any papers you’d want to bring with you, make sure they’re in order and ready to go. If there are certain things you wish to show the bailiff (your car finance documents, something that demonstrates your vulnerability, an income and expenditure sheet that shows that you can afford so much every month), be prepared to do so. You may also take a copy of them so that the bailiff may pick them up through your letterbox. Or send them ahead of time.

What if you do let them in?

What can bailiffs take?

If you do let a bailiff in, they can only take certain sorts of things. They have to belong to you, so bailiffs can’t take:

  • anything bought on Hire Purchase;
  • your children’s toys;
  • things which belong to your partner, your parents, your flatmates or anyone else.

If a bailiff tries to take something that isn’t yours, you’ll need proof of ownership, such as a bill or receipt, their credit card statement, family letters or emails referring to a gift, and so on. (NB You can’t give your belongings away until you’ve got the Notice of Enforcement from a bailiff.) If there’s no receipt available, the owner can make a formal declaration in which they swear that the object is theirs.

Bailiffs are unable to take possessions that are necessary for day-to-day living or employment, as listed here. Clothes; bedding; some household devices such as a fridge or a washing machine; and the tools of your trade or things you need for studying or education, such as a laptop, are all examples of items bailiffs cannot take.

Remember basic domestic needs need to be left in the property if things are taken.

Do They Just Take Things From Me?

It’s unusual for a bailiff to take anything away the first time they visit – they usually want you to pay the debt. They typically give you a list of items that they will seize. This is known as a Controlled Goods Agreement. If it gets to the Controlled Goods Agreement stage you need to act.

If you’ve agreed to payments you can’t afford or the bailiff has listed things they aren’t permitted to take, you’ll need assistance fast.

What If Things Don’t go to Plan?

Bailiffs must follow a set of rules. They should act professionally, not be pushy or unpleasant, and should not mislead the public. If you believe they have misbehaved, take some notes as soon as possible.

It is difficult to make a complaint about bailiffs. You may be able to go to court at times, but you should also communicate with the bailiff and the creditor.

The most pressing issues are those in which a bailiff has taken or is about to take (has clamped a car or put something on a Controlled Goods Order) something that does not belong to you, whether because it qualifies for an exemption or because it belongs to someone else. In this instance, you require assistance quickly to retrieve the object or prevent it from being taken.

What is the broader picture?

The bailiff will always come first. However, before making a monthly payment offer, you should consider your entire position.

Even if you have had local council tax difficulties for a long time, this bailiff debt may only be for one of the previous tax years. You will need to be able to make payments on the various council tax arrears – and this year’s payments – otherwise they will be sent to bailiffs as well.

This may be the first CCJ/bailiff action for you if you have been ignoring other credit cards and loans because you couldn’t afford them. If you pay too much to settle this one, funds will be all gone when it comes to your other creditors.

Unless this debt with the bailiff is truly your only debt, you should consult an experienced debt advisor about your entire situation.

Where to get help?

Whether you have just missed a payment to a debt, you are getting letters from debt collectors or have been taken to court, it’s always better to seek advice, for free advice please speak to Become Debt Free. It may be wise to look into an Individual Voluntary Arrangement (IVA) which will consolidate all your debts into a single affordable monthly payment with us!

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Customers can get free debt advice from the Money Advice Service – an organisation set up by the Government to offer free and impartial advice to those in debt. For more information from the Money Advice Service visit MAS is part of the Money & Pensions Service. We are not affiliated with MAS in any way.

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Become Debt Free specialise in providing and administering Individual Voluntary Arrangement (“IVA”) solutions to individuals based in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.  We do not administer Debt Management Plans, Debt Relief Orders, or any other debt solutions.  We only provide advice after completing or receiving an initial fact find where the individual(s) concerned meets the criteria for an IVA, therefore, all advice is given in reasonable contemplation of an insolvency appointment.

* To qualify for debt write off in an IVA with us, you must have a minimum of £7,000 of qualifying unsecured debt owed to two or more creditors.  The amount of debt write off is based on your own personal circumstances – typically this could be up to 85% of what you owe; and this has been achieved by over 10% of our customers who have successfully completed their IVA’s in the last 12 months.  The amount of debt write off differs for each customer and is dependent upon their individual financial circumstances and subject to the approval of their creditors.

Andrew Bowers is authorised in the UK to act as Insolvency Practitioner by the Insolvency Practitioners Association.


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