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.
- Who calls in the bailiffs?
- Make sure the bailiff is made aware if…
- What a bailiff can and can’t do
- What you can do
- Help paying off debts
Who calls in the bailiffs?
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.
Make sure the bailiff is made aware if…
- You have mental health problems.
- You are under the age of 18.
- You are over the age of 65.
- English isn’t your first language and you can’t speak/read English fluently.
- Have children (especially if they are in the house at the time of the visit) or are pregnant.
- Have had a recent bereavement or suddenly unemployed.
- You’re disabled or seriously ill.
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.
What a bailiff can and can’t do
- A bailiff cannot force their way into your property. They can’t put their foot in the door or push their way past you without a warrant. You are perfectly within your rights to pursue legal action if they enter your property without the necessary paperwork to hand.
- At no point are they allowed to exhibit violent or threatening behaviour. If you’re made to feel vulnerable, you are entitled to lodge a complaint, call the police or order them to leave your property.
- A bailiff can access the property through unlocked doors. If you’re expecting a visit from the bailiff, make sure all of your doors and windows are locked. However, in some circumstances, bailiffs can secure permission to enter a property using ‘reasonable force’. This doesn’t mean they will be kicking down your front door. Usually, they will return to your property with a locksmith.
- Bailiffs cannot enter a property where the only occupants are children or vulnerable adults.
- Bailiffs recovering money owed to HMRC are allowed to break into the debtor’s property. Once again, however, the bailiff cannot use force to enter the property.
- Creditors can punish mortgage defaulters by obtaining an eviction order from a County Court. Then, bailiffs are entitled to break into the defaulter’s house using reasonable force.
- Bailiffs recovering unpaid magistrates’ court fines have the power to force entry without a warrant in all circumstances.
- A bailiff cannot confiscate essentials. ‘Essentials’ includes things like clothes, most furniture, your phone, microwave, fridge and washing machine.
- Bailiffs cannot take items needed for study or ‘tools of the trade’.
- The bailiff cannot take anything that is rented or hired.
What you can do
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.
- You need to take action. This means either contacting the organisation you owe money to, talking to the bailiffs through the letterbox or a window, or leaving the property to talk to them face to face.
- Disputing the debt. You might think the organisation has made a mistake, or the money owed isn’t the correct sum. In these instances it’s essential you do not let them in to seize items, as this may count against you in the dispute.
- Reach an agreement with them as to how they will be paid. Bailiffs have a bad reputation, but it’s important not to act aggressively or unreasonably when speaking with them.
- Be polite and agreeable so you can effectively reach an agreement that suits both parties.
- If you are physically threatened by a bailiff, report the incident to the police immediately.
Help getting out of debt
Are you struggling to pay off those debts? Would you like a debt-busting-buddy?
Well, we’d love to come round and give you a hand but there aren’t enough of us to go round!
Instead, we have put together a FREE set of helpful emails you can sign-up for that will give you hints, tips and encouragement to free yourself of the debt burden.
Just sign-up here now and turbo-charge your debt freedom day!
Find out more here…
For more advice on how to resist bailiffs, check out Citizens Advice at www.adviceguide.org.uk.
i have a company demanding my debt be paid with 6 monthly payments,i cannot afford to do that or i would.
we have a mobility car and they said that if we refused to pay the bailifs will clamp the car..can they do this as the car is not our..the debt is for a parking ticket..we went 7mins over paid time.
i’m dubious that they can take the car if it doesn’t belong to you, & if they are debt collectors, then they have no authority to do so anyway, especially if the car is not parked in an area they control. that would be classed as acting out of their jurisdiction. write to them, explaining you can’t afford the amounts they are asking, & offer them a reduced amount over a longer period (an amount you can comfortably afford), it is in their best interests to receive the money as quickly as possible, but it is not in their best… Read more »
Hi I have a café which was temporarily shut for a week due to other commitments. We have a new 6 year lease after an initial 3 year one that started in 2008. The landlord sent me a text on the 28th October asking of me to let him know when the rent was going to be in his bank, I did not reply as I received the text on the 2nd November when I turned my phone on, I rang him but his phone was off. Later that day I received a call off my dad saying two guys… Read more »
Hi my partner has had two vistes by a man who is looking for me he wont tell her what it is a bout further more he is saying that the company dont belive i dont live there anymore which i dont he has said that she will have to this letter and the baliffs will be calling can they take anything out of the house as its. A fully furnised property and the landlord owns everything.
No they can’t take anything. If they do then your partner should contact the police and his landlord and tell them he has been burgled!
hi.my kids went to an independent steiner school.They loved it but over the years i got into debt with the school.the school knew this and i was always trying to pay whatever,whenever.the school operates on verbal agreements and trust and the last year, there was a verbal agreement that i would pay off the debt when my daughter had left.They gave me about 10 days to respond to their letters and then slapped me with debt collec letterthe day after my daughters last day there.It is a school based on a particular ethos and i would not allowed my daughter… Read more »
Hi,I have a missed last payment, because I am Jobseeaker Allowance.
I don’t have a benefits from job centre, I am waiting for.
Now have received a goods collection letter from bristow and sutor if I don’t pay £976 they will be here to collect good well over the sum of wich i owe!I send to them letter and email with question about late payment because I am unemployed.
They don’t agree.
What I can do with this?Please could you give me ahelp.
Hi Bogdan, Your creditor has sent your debt to the County Court and they have issued a County Court Judgement. As you have not replied to their paperwork with an offer of payment, your debt has now been passed to Bristow and Sutor, a bailiff company who have been asked to enforce the County Court Judgement. They will now ask for payment of the debt in full, and if it is not paid the company is authorised by the court to take possession of your property in order to sell then to repay the debt. If you have no contact… Read more »
Hi Ayse, If you want to put in a defence and did not have the opportunity to do this, you could apply to have the judgment set aside. You need to complete an N244 form to apply for an order to do this. A District Judge will then decide if there are sufficient grounds to set aside the judgement if any of the following conditions apply: • The court thinks you have a real chance of a successful defence to the claim. • The court thinks there is another good reason why the judgment should be set aside. Although you… Read more »
Hi Stuart, You should try to come to an arrangement either directly with the bailiff or ask the local authority to withdraw the warrant and take the debt back. Most local authorities will want to come to an arrangement with you if it results in regular payments. It’s important to do this straight away because the bailiffs can add costs to your bill for each visit they make. If you think that the bailiffs are not acting in a ‘fair way’ by referring you from one office to another and denying knowledge of your previous conversation, then you can put… Read more »
my husband owned a lease on a commercial property for which he was unable to pay the rent in the last 6 months as the business had folded and he had been unable to find a tenant or sell on the lease, he was a sole trader. the landlord without warning changed the locks on the property and did not let my husband back in to remove personal items including paperwork and business equipment which was worth quite a few thousand pounds. we have a received a letter to say a county court judgement has been awarded to the landlord… Read more »
I have recently missed 2 payments when my benefits were suspended and had a 4 hr notice from the baliff. I rang him on friday and he agreed that if I pay an amount the following tuesday he should be able to reinstate and arrangement. When I rang him to make the payment he at first denied all knowledge of the previous conversation. He then said to ring the office and they will not deal and kep refering me back to the collecting baliff. I am stuck as to what to do and wonder if I can go back to… Read more »
Hi I hope you may be able to shed some light for me. i have missed 2 payments over christmas of 10£ this is because my jobseakers alowance was stopped as i missed a signing day. when my claim was reinstated 2 weeks later i sent payments once more. i now have received a goods collection letter from bristow and sutor if i dont pay 390£ by the 6th of jan they will be here to collect good well over the sum of wich i owe! is there any thing i can do to delay them or make alternative payments?… Read more »
Hi Rob, sorry to hear about this trouble you’re going through. You’ll need to give us more information, though, for us to help. I’ve spoken to Creditaction.org.uk about it and they say they may be able to help but they need more details, like it may be that you missed more payments previously or the timescale has been reduced but whatever the case £390 for two missed payments of £10 seems excessive to say the least. Give us more info and we’ll help where we can.