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Know Your Rights: Bailiffs and my debts

Bailiffs appearing on your doorstep to recover a debt can be a frightening and daunting experience. Knowing your rights will go a long way to help you deal with the situation when a bailiffs is seeking to recover a debt.

This guide will cover:

  • What is a bailiff?

  • What debts do bailiffs collect?

  • When do bailiffs visit your home?

  • What a bailiff can and cannot do

  • What a bailiff can and cannot seize

  • What is a controlled goods agreement?

  • How to deal with a bailiff visit

  • Complaining about bailiffs

  • How we can help

Remember, bailiffs have limited powers and must follow the laws that govern them.

What is a bailiff?

A bailiff is an individual who is legally authorised to recover an outstanding debt. Bailiffs will contact you directly to ask for payment of the debt.

Bailiffs cannot enter your home unless you invite them in. The only time that a Bailiff can enter your home uninvited is if they have a warrant issued by a Court. The warrant must be shown.

If a bailiff does gain entry to your home, they may seize your belongings to raise the money to pay the debt if you can not afford to pay it.

What debts do bailiffs collect?

  • Council Tax Arrears

  • Parking Fines

  • Court Fines

  • County Court Judgements (CCJ)

  • Family Court Judgement (FCJ)

  • High Court Judgements

  • Magistrates' Court Fine

  • Child Support

  • Maintenance

  • Compensation Order

  • Income Tax, National Insurance and VAT

  • Business Rent

Bailiffs DO NOT collect debts such as Payday Loans, Credit Cards or Overdrafts unless the creditor has taken you to court and obtained and County Court Judgment (CCJ) and you have failed to pay.

When do bailiffs visit your home?

You should not get an unexpected visit from the bailiffs. Bailiffs need to provide you with at least 7 days' notice of their first visit. You should have also received a final demand from your creditor, which will have warned you of court action or the use of bailiffs. You should receive both letters in the post.

If a bailiff visits your property and have failed to give the required 7 days' notice you should politely inform them of the fact and ask that they contact their advisor.

What a bailiff can and cannot do

If your doors are locked, a bailiff cannot legally enter your home unless you invite them in. However, they can gain entry to your property if they find an unlocked back door, garage or shed. So, keep all these doors/entries locked if you are expecting a visit.

In extreme circumstances a bailiff may receive permission from the court to use reasonable force, although this is quite rare. Reasonable force allows a bailiff to force a door or gate open, cut through a padlock and chain or break down a vehicle barrier.

Bailiffs CAN:

  • Stay in the house for as long as they require once they have gained entry

  • Seize control of your belonging by making a list of what they intend to take. You cannot dispose of these goods yourself at this point. The Bailiff will then return at a later date to take the goods away. A valid Notice of Intention to Re-enter must be received from the Bailiff giving at least two days' notice of their return.

  • Enter your house though a connecting door if they have acquired entry through an unlocked garage or building.

  • Force entry into a home if they have a warrant to do so.

  • Enter the main entrance into a block of flats by peaceful means. If the door to your flat is locked, they must have permission to enter unless they are in possession of a Reasonable Force Warrant.

  • Enter your property if they have been invited in by a house or flat mate over the age of 16.

Bailiffs CANNOT:

  • Enter your home between 9pm and 6am.

  • Climb over any walls, fences or through widows.

  • Enter premises where only a child (under 16) or a vulnerable person is present. 'A vulnerable person' may include a single parent, someone elderly, disabled, seriously ill, someone with learning disabilities.

  • Force their way passed you if you answer the door to them.

What a bailiff can and cannot seize

Bailiffs CAN seize:

  • Luxury items such as TV's, cars, bikes and games consoles

  • Jointly owned items in the property

  • Goods which were bought with personal loans

  • Any cash, cheques, bonds, stocks, shares and pawn tickets that belong to you

  • Vehicle owned by you and kept at your home, business and public highway

Bailiffs CANNOT seize:

  • Someone else's belongings

  • Items you need for work or study such as tools, books or computer equipment up to the value of £1,350 (business rate debt is not covered in this clause.

  • Things you need for basic domestic needs including clothes, cooker, fridge, furniture, work tools etc

  • Anything that belongs to a child

  • Goods currently being paid for on higher purchase. The Bailiff will ask for a copy of the agreement.

  • Goods which also act as your home such as a houseboat, static caravan, camper van or tent

  • A vehicle parked on private land that is not your home or business

What is a controlled goods agreement?

Bailiffs can take goods immediately if you grant peaceful entry into your home, but usually will not, if you make an agreement with the bailiff to repay the debt in instalments. The Controlled Goods Agreement allows a bailiff to take control of your goods by making a list of what can be taken. Provided your agreed payments are paid and on time, the goods will be left in your possession whilst the debt is being repaid.

Be aware that any missed or late payment will break the agreement, so it is vital that you only agree to pay what you can afford and when you can afford it.

Any vehicle that you own, if parked on your own driveway or the public highway, may be seized without peaceful entry having been granted.

What bailiffs can charge

  • Fixed Fees (if you owe less than £1,500):

  • £75 when the case is sent to the Bailiffs

  • £235 if their letter is ignored and they must visit you

  • £110 if they have to take your goods and sell them at auction

  • Additional action fees (storing goods/using locksmith

If you owe more than £1,500 you must pay a percentage of your debt each time a bailiff visits your home.

How to deal with a bailiff visit

If you are aware of an intending visit you may wish to make sure you let everyone in the house know to avoid any confusion. You may also find it supportive to have a family member or friend with you when the Bailiffs visit.

If you can not afford to pay the debt you do not legally have to cooperate with the bailiffs but this may cause problems, such as court action further down the line, so it is worth cooperating.

If you do not let them in, they may seize your belongings from outside the home such as a car or motorbike. They may also return for a second time.

If the bailiff cannot get payment, get into your house or seize goods from outside the house they may refer your debt back to your creditor. Your creditor may then take court action, make you bankrupt or in extreme cases, file for imprisonment.

Complaining about bailiffs

You can complain about a bailiff if they:

  • Threaten or harass you

  • Gain entry forcefully or illegally

  • Fail to how the correct documents

  • Try to charge you incorrect fees

  • Seize the wrong goods

You may be able to get a refund of fees or your goods returned if a bailiff has broken the rules, so make sure you keep a detailed record of the times and dates any incidents occur. In most cases the bailiff who will visit you will be employed by a private company, even if the debt you have is a government or council debt. If you wish to complain you must go to the company the bailiff works for or the people you owe money to.

Having knowledge about what bailiffs can and cannot do can make all the difference when dealing with them. It can change a stressful situation into a straightforward and clear resolution. However, it is important to seek advice.

Contact Vauxhall Law Centre on 0151 360 7777 if you need advice on debt or bailiffs our free legal confidential service will be able to support you through this time.

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