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It’s the nightmare scenario no-one wants to experience: being paid a visit by the bailiff. To escape the negativity associated with their original title, bailiffs now call themselves ‘enforcement agents’.
But, whether they call themselves a bailiff or enforcement agent, the one thing that has remained unchanged is, if you find one on your doorstep, you can guarantee they are after the debt owed.
Having your possessions taken away to pay off that debt is hardly a nice situation for anyone to be in. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed, backed into a corner and bullied, so it’s vital to know your rights and understand what you can do to protect yourself.
Bailiffs, or enforcement agents, can be used to collect unpaid council tax, business rates, personal debts, parking charge notices (PCNs), congestion charges, child support, tax, VAT or magistrates’ court fines. However, they usually only come calling when other methods of procuring the payment owed have failed.
It’s important to note that bailiffs aren’t the same as debt collectors. Debt collectors come from private firms and don’t have the same powers to enter your property or seize goods. Instead, bailiffs are Crown officials.
Organisations or people you owe money to must first get permission from a County Court in order to seize your property. This used to be called a Warrant of Execution, but, since April 2014, this has been known as a Warrant of Control or Writ of Control.
Once this has been procured, before they pay you a visit, the organisation then has to send you a notice of enforcement. This can be by post, hand delivery, fax, email or even fixing it to the front of your property. This explains why they are coming, and outlines what you can do to avoid a visit.
Regardless of the method used, you should be allowed at least seven days’ notice. The only circumstance in which they are allowed to visit your property within those first seven days is if they have a special court order.
Ideally, you will use those seven days to clear the debt before it reaches the point where a visit from the bailiff is necessary. You can do this by contacting the organisation you owe money to and write the debt off or negotiate payment terms.
For example, a debt owed to the magistrate’s court can be paid off in installments if you don’t have enough cash in hand to pay the lump sum. You could therefore apply to the court to suspend any action taken by the bailiff as long as you’re making those payments and continue to make them.
In some instances, however, the only way to stop the bailiff from calling is to pay in full upfront, so make sure you understand the exact terms of the debt during the seven-day notice period.
If any of the above points apply to you, the bailiff operates under varying guidelines and should make allowances. It’s therefore within your best interest to make them aware of your situation upon visitation.
If you haven’t been able to tackle the issue during the notice period, then you need to know what you can do when the bailiffs arrive.
The most important thing to remember is, unless they have a warrant or proof, you don’t have to let them in.
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For more advice on how to resist bailiffs, check out Citizens Advice at www.adviceguide.org.uk.