Our advisors are often asked for help and advice about how to deal with bailiffs.
It can be a stressful and scary situation if bailiffs come knocking at your door and while it’s difficult to know how to respond, it’s important to know your rights and to have a strategy in place if you are at risk of being visited.
Bailiffs are debt enforcement agents in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. However, if you live in Scotland, Sheriff Officers are responsible for recovering debts on behalf of creditors.
Here’s everything you need to know about bailiffs and what they can actually do.
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 and court fines.
• Bailiffs can also be sent to recover debts associated with personal loans or credit cards, although this is much rarer.
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 a bailiff entry.
Bailiffs cannot enter your property by any means between the hours of 9 pm and 6 am, or on public holidays. Additionally, bailiffs cannot enter your property if only children under the age of 16 are at home.
The only circumstances in which a bailiff is entitled to use force to enter your property are:
• 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 from the 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.
Even in these scenarios, however, the bailiff would have to return to the property with a locksmith (something they will 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:
• Beds and Bedding
• Washing Machine
• Phone (either mobile or landline)
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 visit. 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.
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 any interest or fees on your debts frozen, so these bailiff charges should have little bearing on the amount you end up paying back.
How to Stop Bailiffs
Citizens Advice recommend not admitting a bailiff to your property when they visit. Instead, you should 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.
• 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 on the date, and that your details are correct.
Bailiffs should never physically threaten or intimidate you, and if they do you should call 999 for support.