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How to Stop Bailiffs
It can be incredibly worrying and upsetting to be threatened with bailiffs or have a bailiff knock at your door.
Unfortunately, debt problems and national debt trends mean this is a reality for hundreds of thousands of people around the UK. With this in mind, it’s absolutely essential that you understand what a bailiff can and can’t do – and how to stop bailiff action.
We’ve put together a straight-talking guide to dealing with bailiffs, so you’ve got all the information you need if you’re dealing with problem debt.
What is a bailiff?
Bailiffs are people who have been instructed to collect money that you owe to a company, a council, a court, or an individual. Bailiffs operate in England, Wales, and Northern Ireland – in Scotland, sheriff officers do a similar job.
Usually, your creditor (who you owe the money to) will have tried to collect the debt in other ways before having bailiffs visit your home or business.
Bailiffs can be sent to collect a wide range of debts, including:
- Council tax debt
- Parking fines or penalties
- Child support or child maintenance debt
- High court or county court judgements
- Magistrate court fines
- Income tax debt
- National insurance debt
- Business rent
There are different types of bailiff, and some are officially known by different names, including:
- High court enforcement officers
- Enforcement agents
- Court bailiffs
- County Court Bailiff
- Family court bailiff
Whatever the bailiff’s official title, their powers are usually the same.
Although there are different names for bailiffs, it’s important not to mix them up with debt collectors from debt collection agencies. A debt collector does not have the same rights as a bailiff. They may visit you at home to ask for payment and set up a payment plan, but they cannot take your things or enter your home by force under any
What rights do bailiffs have?
There are very strict rules that say what a bailiff can and cannot do – and those rules have become even more strict in recent years.
Bailiffs are not allowed to visit your home until at least seven days after they’ve sent a ‘Notice of Enforcement’. This letter will either come to you in the post – or be hand-delivered to you – and it will clearly explain that it’s giving seven days notice.
Bailiffs cannot enter your home any way other than a door, and they cannot seize essential items. What’s more, bailiff home visits cannot be during the night.
All bailiffs must now go through training before they begin to work – and they cannot use physical force against anyone during a home visit.
When a bailiff visits, they should always make sure they:
- Give you a clear reason for their visit and tell you who they represent
- Show you a form of ID – usually an official ID card or enforcement agent certificate
- Ask your permission to enter your home
A bailiff must never:
- Enter your house without your permission
- Enter your house through any means other than the door
- Force entry on their first visit – unless they have the correct warrant (often a magistrates’ court warrant)
- Enter your house if the only person at home is aged 16 or under
- Enter your property if the only person at home is disabled, considered vulnerable, or has certain diagnosed mental health problems.
- Force entry into your property – unless they’re collecting a criminal fine, tax debt, or they’re removing goods following a breach of a previous agreement you’ve made with them
- Make home visits after 9pm or before 6am – or on public holidays
What happens if bailiffs are at my door looking for someone else?
Sometimes, bailiffs may come to your home looking for someone else.
If you do not know the person the bailiffs are looking for, it could be that the bailiff simply has the wrong address. If this is the case, there’s no need to let them into your home.
Instead, explain that they’re at the wrong address and show them a piece of post proving you are not the person they’re looking for. A council tax bill/letter or utility bill will prove this.
If the bailiff is looking for someone you live with, don’t panic – this doesn’t make you responsible for the debt. If the bailiffs have a warrant to enter your home, they can come in and start the process of listing items to seize – or perhaps even taking items.
Don’t worry though, they can only take items that belong to the person they’re looking for – but you may need to be ready to prove that certain items belong to you.
If you have a joint debt with the person a high court enforcement officer is looking for, you are equally responsible for repaying what’s outstanding. Unfortunately, this is the case even if the other person usually deals with the debt.
Can bailiffs come into your home?
Whether or not bailiffs have the right to enter your house depends on a few different things. However, on a bailiff’s first visit to your property, they can only enter if you give them permission – or if a door has been left open.
Can bailiffs force entry to your home or property?
There are a few situations where a court bailiff is allowed to enter your house without your permission. However, this will never involve breaking a door down – but it could mean they come back with a locksmith.
A bailiff can force entry if they:
- If they have previously gained peaceful entry
- Have a magistrates court warrant
- Are seizing goods that have been moved to a different property
Can bailiffs come into your home if you're not there?
If no-one is in, enforcement agents are not usually allowed to enter your house. However, if you’re not in but a family member is, they may try to gain peaceful entry and begin seizing items or listing things to potentially seize at a later date.
Remember though, if a bailiff is collecting a criminal fine, magistrates court fines, VAT debts, or they’ve previously gained peaceful entry; they could be legally allowed to force entry – even if you’re not in.
What happens if bailiffs get into your home?
If a bailiff manages to make a peaceful entry into your house, what they can and can’t do changes compared to what they can do if they’re outside.
When inside, they can then enter any room and start listing goods that they could take away in the future.
They’ll need to make sure these goods belong to the person who owes the debt, so they may ask to see receipts or proof of ownership if you say things aren’t yours.
Bailiffs can’t usually take goods away if it’s the first time they’ve visited your house, but they can now come back to take these things away in the future – even forcing entry if they need to.
What can bailiffs take?
When an enforcement agent lists items to potentially take in the future, they’re starting to put together something known as a ‘controlled goods agreement’.
This kind of agreement is usually there just to make sure you keep up with any payment plan you agree with the bailiffs when they visit. If you don’t, it can be used to decide what they will come and seize in the future.
If the time comes to seize your possessions, bailiffs can take:
- Computers and laptops
- Games consoles
- Other ‘luxury’ goods
However, they cannot take essential items you need for everyday life, including:
- Washing machines, fridges, freezers, and other ‘white goods’
- Pets or service animals
- Children’s toys
- Fixtures and fittings from your house
- Items needed for your job if you’re self-employed
Can bailiffs take your car?
Since cars are often worth a lot of money, bailiffs will often clamp them even if they don’t enter your house. However, there are certain rules that apply to cars, and they can only be seized under certain circumstances.
Bailiffs cannot take your car if:
- The car is on finance
- You have a blue disability badge
- It’s essential for your job and worth less than £1,350
- The vehicle is your main residence (a motorhome or houseboat, for example)
Could a bailiff take my animal away?
No, bailiffs cannot take pets or other animals from your house or business.
If a bailiff threatens to take an animal or tells you they have tried to do so, they’re almost certainly breaking the law.
There are absolutely no circumstances where a bailiff could ever take a service dog (such as a guide dog) as this type of animal would be considered essential for your day-to-day life.
When bailiffs are required to collect a debt, the costs involved will be added to what you owe.
At the very least, this will be a £75 ‘compliance fee’ that’s added when you’re given the letter giving you seven days’ notice of their visit.
After that, there’s an ‘enforcement fee’ of £235 plus 7.5% of your debt that’s above £1,500. For example, if you owe £2,500, you will have to pay 7.5% of £1,000 (as this is the amount over £1,500) plus the £235. So £75 + £235 = an additional £310 on top of your original debt.
If your goods are sold to help settle your debt, you will face another £112 fee plus another 7.5% of your debts over £1,500. Again, if you owe £2,500, this will be another £187.
As you can see, even without considering how stressful it is to experience having bailiffs at your door, the whole process can be extremely expensive and add a huge amount on to what you owe.
If it’s a bailiff’s first visit, you can lock your doors and refuse to let them in. If you wish, you can talk to them about setting up a payment plan – but it’s better to do this by calling them or talking through the letterbox or an upstairs window.
If you can avoid the need to deal with bailiffs, this is your best option. If you’ve received a letter telling you bailiffs could be coming to your house, you should act as quickly as possible.
Contact us today, and we’ll give you clear debt advice and confidential information that walks you through all your options.