Bailiffs and Coronavirus: Your Guide to the Restrictions

Back in March 2020, the first national coronavirus lockdown meant big restrictions on many businesses – and bailiffs were included in that. Back then, all bailiff visits were put on hold to make sure there was no danger of coming into contact with someone who had the virus.

Now though, things have changed. Depending on where in the UK you live, you might be experiencing ‘tiered’ restrictions, ‘firebreak’ or ‘circuit breaker’ lockdowns. Whatever your restrictions are called, bailiffs can now knock on your door again – so it’s absolutely essential that you understand what they can and can’t do.

Here, we’ll take a look at exactly that; who bailiffs are and what they can do – as well as how the latest COVID-19 pandemic might make a difference to bailiff action that you’re facing.

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What is a bailiff?

“Bailiff” is another name for an enforcement agent; someone official who is sent to your home as a last resort to settle a debt.

No matter what you see on the TV; bailiffs do not just turn up without warning. You will always be sent a letter to let you know that bailiffs may come to your house – and you will almost certainly have had lots of phone calls and letters about the debt before that too.

In fact, the company or people you owe money to (the ‘creditor’) will usually have been through the courts to try to get you to pay – so enforcement agents turning up at your property is never a nice experience to go through, but it’s usually not a big surprise.

Other names for bailiffs

Depending on where you live or the type of debt you have, bailiffs can sometimes have different official job titles. These can include:

  • High court enforcement officer
  • Enforcement agent
  • Court bailiff
  • County Court bailiff
  • Family Court bailiff

Are ‘debt collectors’ the same as enforcement agents?

No. It’s important to understand that anyone who calls themselves a ‘debt collector’ isn’t a bailiff.

Debt collection companies sometimes get people to visit your home to put pressure on you to repay a debt. Debt collectors do not have the same rights as bailiffs. A debt collector may still call at your home despite the coronavirus crisis – but they cannot enter your home by force or take your things.

What do bailiffs do?

As we’ve already said, enforcement agents collect debts – but how they collect debt when they knock on your door depends on your situation.

Even though most people think of bailiffs as people who’ll take away things you own, enforcement agents will usually prefer to settle any debt with a full payment. If they can’t, they will sometimes set up a payment arrangement between you and the company you owe money to.

Of course, in some cases, bailiff action can result in you having your things taken – but there are strict rules around how this works, but they would usually only take things you own as an absolute last resort.

What types of debt do bailiffs recover?

Enforcement agents can call at your home or business premises to seize goods to settle a huge range of debts. Sometimes, bailiff action can be over something as small parking fines – but in other cases, it can be large income tax debts – or even to enforce an eviction to make you move out of a property.

The types of debt that bailiffs may call to collect include:

  • Council tax debts and missed payments
  • High court or county court judgements (CCJs)
  • Child support or child maintenance debts
  • Parking fines or penalties
  • Income tax debt
  • National insurance debt
  • Business rent debt

This list doesn’t cover everything – so if you’ve got a debt to a creditor that you’re not paying, it’s fair to assume it might lead to a bailiff knocking on your door if you don’t pay. If this is the case, getting debt advice as quickly as possible is a very good idea.

Which type of debt concerns you?

Credit Cards

Overdrafts

Payday Loan

Catalogue & Store Cards

Council Tax

Personal Loan

What does the coronavirus pandemic mean for high court enforcement officers?

Nobody needs reminding about how COVID-19 has changed most peoples’ lives in communities and local government around the UK – and the changes have impacted bailiffs too.

During the first national lockdown, all bailiffs’ visits were stopped for five months. This happened because three large debt charities (StepChange, the Citizens’ Advice Bureau, and the Money Advice Trust) asked the government to stop these potentially unsafe home visits to protect public health.

Although bailiffs are now allowed to work again and seize goods, there are strict guidelines about how they go about their business. Let’s take a look at what enforcement agents can and can’t do:

What CAN high court enforcement officers (bailiffs) do?

Despite coronavirus lockdown measures, there are still plenty of powers that bailiffs have. At the moment, an enforcement agency can still:

Come into your home

As before the coronavirus crisis, enforcement agents can enter your home to try to recover money or goods to pay off a debt. They have to give you 7 days notice if they’re going to visit your home – and they must stick to social distancing guidelines when they’re there.

Come onto your land

Even if they don’t give 7 days notice to potentially enter your home, an enforcement agent can come onto the land around your home. This means they can potentially take goods from outside your house (like a car, for example) without you being at home or letting them in. Again, if enforcement agents come onto land owned by you, they must stick to social distancing guidelines.

Work safely together in fixed teams

Enforcement agents usually work as part of a team – and they almost always go to people’s houses to recover money or goods in pairs. This is still true during COVID-19, but it has changed the way they work a little. Now, bailiffs must work in fixed teams – working with the same agents each day. This is to minimise the chance of spreading COVID-19 should one team member be exposed.

Report dangerous or illegal behaviour to the police

Although it’s important that bailiffs work safely when they do their job – it’s also important that anyone at the property they go to also acts in the way they should. This means that if you or someone else in your house breaks social distancing guidelines or does anything that puts a bailiff in danger, you could be reported to the police.

What CAN’T bailiffs do?

The on-going COVID-19 situation means there are some things enforcement agents cannot do. These things include:

Break social distancing guidelines

Of course, just because social distancing guidelines exist, it doesn’t mean everyone follows them. Bailiffs must work safely when they’re in your home or collection goods – so if you feel like they’re breaking social distancing rules, you have the right to report them.

Force entry (unless they’re collecting a criminal fine)

It’s usually possible for enforcement agents to force entry into your home if they’ve followed the right procedures – but during the COVID-19 pandemic, this rule has been changed. As long as a bailiff isn’t collecting a criminal fine, they should not force entry into your home – and they should only enter if you say it’s okay.

Shout or raise their voice

Bailiffs usually aren’t aggressive – but now, to protect public health, they have been told not to shout or raise their voice when they’re on your property. It’s believed that shouting or talking loudly increases the chance of coronavirus spreading – so you can report a bailiff if they shout when they’re in your home.

Work while they have COVID-19 symptoms

Like everyone in the UK, bailiffs have been told that they should self-isolate if they’re experiencing any symptoms of coronavirus. As such, enforcement officers should not work if they’re symptomatic – and they should not visit your home or property.

Where do these guidelines apply?

This government guidance applies in England and Wales – so if you’re outside England and Wales, your government may have different guidelines. If you’re in Scotland, you can find information about what bailiffs can do on the Gov.Scot website – and if you’re in Northern Ireland, the NIbusinessinfo website is the official source of information about government guidelines.

COVID-19 and debt

Coronavirus has been devastating for many peoples’ jobs – and even with the support that’s been offered by the government, there are millions of people simply unable to keep up with the payments that they owe.

As such, bailiff action is increasing across the UK – and we can expect to see more and more people struggling if businesses and self-employed people continue to struggle. If COVID-19 has meant that you’ve fallen behind with repayments, you’re definitely not alone.

What can you do if you think bailiffs might visit?

If you’re worried about bailiffs visiting your home or your workplace – you’re not alone. Millions of people are facing money problems they can’t get on top of – and in most cases, the coronavirus pandemic has made matters even worse.

If you think enforcement agents could be soon coming to your property, it’s absolutely essential that you act quickly.

Why?

Well, having bailiffs knock at your door isn’t nice – but it’s not just the unpleasant experience you’ve got to worry about. Bailiffs cost money – and the company you owe will almost certainly add the cost of the action they’re taking to the debt that you owe. For example, owing just a few hundred pounds in council tax can end up being a debt of thousands. Additional charges are added when debt collection firms get involved – and bailiffs visits can add massive amounts again. Suddenly, council tax arrears or missed credit card payments can result in a huge repayment plan that takes years to settle.

Act now, before bailiffs arrive

You should always have at least 7 days notice if bailiffs are potentially coming to your home. In this time, you should track down expert debt advice that’ll help you avoid bailiff action.

When you talk to professional debt advisers, they’ll be able to give you guidance about debt solutions that could write off a large amount of what you owe. Even better, if you decide to follow this debt advice, just getting an application started is usually enough to stop any legal action – which means you’ll avoid a bailiff visit and hopefully prevent your debt problems spiralling out of control.

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