You may have received a letter telling you that the bailiffs have been instructed to your property. When you are already worried about money issues, the bailiffs visiting your home do sound scary.
However, did you know that you have rights and the bailiffs when it comes to collecting a debt? Make sure you read this guide as we provide you with the information you need to help you deal with bailiffs knocking at your door.
Find out how to get out of debt.
What are bailiffs?
Bailiffs have the legal right to collect money on behalf of a company. They are also known as enforcement agents.
You will either be asked to pay what you owe or be instructed to seize your belongings and sell them to pay for the debts.
What debts can a bailiff collect?
Bailiffs are allowed to collect debts owed to the government or local authority:
- Council tax debt and arrears
- County Court Judgements (CCJs)
- Parking penalties issued by the local authority
- Child maintenance arrears
- Income tax debt
- National Insurance debt (Find out more about business debt)
- VAT debt
- Tax credit overpayments
Is there a difference between bailiffs and debt collectors?
Often bailiffs and debt collectors get pushed into the same category. Although both are seen as collecting money on behalf of a creditor, there is a difference between a debt collector and a bailiff:
- A debt collector does not have special powers to help them collect a debt, whereas a bailiff has special rights to recover it.
- Bailiffs collect more debts related to the government or local authority. In contrast, debt collectors collect commercial debts, including credit card debt, loans, overdrafts, and utility debts.
Find out more about debt collection.
What are the different types of bailiffs?
There are three different types of UK bailiffs:
- County Court Bailiffs – This is a bailiff who looks at the local county court matters. Their primary role is to enforce county court judgements (CCJ). Their job is to ensure that you are forced to repay the money owed to you by the creditor.
- High Court Enforcement officers – A high court enforcement officer deals with matters relating to the high court. Their job is to collect unpaid debts and take away and auction off the property to recover the debts.
- Certified enforcement agents will perform similar duties to high court enforcement officers and county court bailiffs but will work on behalf of a private company.
What rules do bailiffs have to follow?
UK laws which were passed in 2007, ensured that bailiffs have to follow stricter rules.
People have often heard bailiffs forcing themselves into people’s homes or visiting them in the middle of the night. Well, all this has stopped now. Instead, they should adhere to the following rules:
- Must have compulsory training before they can become a bailiff
- Show their approved ID
- Let you know the reason for the visit and what it is for
- Ask your permission before they enter your home or premises
- They are not allowed to force entry. (there are some exceptions to this. Take a look at our section on can bailiffs force entry into your home?
- They can’t enter your home if the only person present at home is aged 16 or under.
- They can’t enter your home if the only person at home is disabled
- They must have a court warrant (usually a magistrates’ warrant)
- They are not allowed to visit your property between 9 pm and 6 pm or on public holidays.
- They are not allowed to enter your house other than through the door e.g. they are not allowed to use the window.
How do you avoid the bailiffs?
Ignoring bailiffs won’t help your situation; however, it is essential to understand that you could avoid the bailiffs by not escalating.
Bailiffs must give seven days’ written notice of a planned visit. This will allow you to contact the creditors you are in debt with to see if you can resolve to stop the bailiffs from visiting you.
You also have the right to refuse entry or ask them to leave if they come to your property for the first time.
However, if they present themselves at your door, you could try arranging a payment plan with them. This is probably better than inviting them in over the phone or through the letterbox.
Should you let the bailiffs in?
Sometimes you may have no other option but to allow bailiffs to enter your home, but this is under certain circumstances. Read more about this in ‘can bailiffs force entry into your home’.
However, it is essential to note that on their first visit, bailiffs can only enter if you tell them they can or through a door that has been left open.
Can bailiffs force entry into your home?
Bailiffs are only allowed to force themselves into your home under certain circumstances.
If they do force entry, they can not force your door down as this would be breaking the law. If they do this, then they are breaking the law.
Instead, they could get a locksmith to open your door if they have exceptional circumstances.
Allowing bailiffs to force entry into your home can be for the following reasons:
- If they have a magistrate’s court warrant
- If they entered your home through your consent
- They are coming to seize goods because the goods have been moved to a different property
What happens when you allow bailiffs into your home peacefully?
If you allow bailiffs into your home, then your rights do change. They are then allowed to:
- Go into every room in your house and make a note of things they can take away
- Make a list of items as a part of a controlled goods agreement. A controlled goods agreement is an agreement between the company you owe money to, which states that if you break the agreed payment plan, the bailiffs can come in and seize your goods.
However, they are not allowed to take items on their first visit and things that don’t belong to you. You will have to prove that they don’t belong to you.
Can bailiffs come into your house without you being present?
Bailiffs are not allowed in your home if no one is in.
However, a bailiff can gain access if:
- They ask a family member (this person needs to be over 16) to gain peaceful entry into your home.
- They are collecting criminal fines
- They are collecting VAT debts
- This is their second visit (remember they are not allowed to force entry on their first visit)
What items are bailiffs allowed to take?
Bailiffs are only allowed to take goods they have access to or have physically touched. Items that bailiffs are likely to take are high-value items:
- Gaming consoles
These items are seen as high value and can be used by bailiffs to sell at an auction.
What items are the bailiffs not allowed to take?
Often people assume that when the bailiffs come to seize goods, you will be left with an empty home with no belongings; however, there are rules regarding what the bailiffs are not allowed to take. These include things which you need for your everyday life:
- Household items such as fridges, freezers or washing machines
- Fixture and fittings such as lights, clocks
- Children’s toys, e.g. some of these items might be of high value, but the bailiffs are not allowed to take these as they are only allowed to take items that are the debtors’ property.
- Pets or guide dogs
- Vehicles, tools or equipment you need for your job or to study, up to the value of £1,350
- They can not take items which are permanently attached to your home like fitted wardrobes or kitchen units
- Table and enough chairs to sit on or a sofa
- Phone or mobile phone
- A mobility vehicle or a vehicle displaying a valid Blue Badge
Can the bailiffs take my car or vehicle?
Bailiffs can clamp or take your vehicle under certain circumstances.
It is essential to understand that they could come and clamp or take your vehicle if you are not at home.
There are certain circumstances when a bailiff can’t take your vehicle:
- it has a valid Blue Badge or is a Motability vehicle
- you live in it, and it is your home
- you need it for your job, and it’s worth less than £1,350
- if you have a finance agreement attached to the car
To avoid your vehicle being taken by the bailiffs, you should park your car:
- Locked garage
- Move it to friends or family member’s driveaway
If the bailiffs find it outside your house or on the road, they can clamp or seize your vehicle.
What do I do if the bailiffs collect for someone else?
Generally, it is best not to let them in. Instead, show them documentation to prove that you are living at the address, not the person they are collecting money from.
Also, if you live with someone and the bailiffs come, explain to the bailiff that the person is not at home. Remember, they can’t force themselves into your home on the first visit, but they can enter if they have a warrant.
They can not seize goods that don’t belong to the person in debt. Instead, you may need to prove that you own these items, which they are not allowed to take.
Does a bailiff have to agree to your payment plan?
The easiest way to get rid of a bailiff is to pay back your money. This would be through a lump sum payment or a payment plan.
It would help to agree on a payment plan with the bailiff. If this is not acceptable, call the creditors up and see if they are more open and keeping with your budget.
If this fails, it is essential to seek independent debt advice as soon as possible and look at alternative debt solutions.
Will bailiffs go away if I ignore them?
Unfortunately, not. You can buy some time on the first visit as they are not allowed to force entry into your home, but the bailiffs will continue to come to ensure the debt matter is resolved. Ignoring them will only make matters worse.
The only way you can stop them is by repaying what you owe or by arranging a payment plan. Alternatively, if a payment plan is not feasible, then look at some alternative debt solutions to help you.
Does an IVA stop the bailiffs?
An Individual Voluntary Arrangement (IVA) is a debt solution offered to people in England and Wales. It will pull all your unsecured debts into one affordable monthly payment. It also allows you to write off any debt you might owe.
As an IVA is a legal contract, any legal action such as bailiffs will need to be ceased after the arrangement has come into place.
This will mean that interest and charges for that debt will be frozen.
Does Debt Management Plan stop the bailiffs?
A Debt Management Plan (DMP) is a non-legally binding debt solution. It is an informal debt solution which you and your creditors have arranged. It is best to put a debt management plan at the earlier stages of your debt journey.
Debt management plans can potentially stop a creditor from chasing you for money owed using bailiffs. Agreeing on a debt management plan before it escalates to the stage of creditor asking enforcement officers or bailiffs to visit your home will prevent the creditor from needing to use the bailiffs.
However, as debt management is not legally binding, the creditors can withdraw.
How can I get further help for my debt and bailiff action?
It is important to get the right help and advice regarding bailiffs and debt. Finding the bailiffs knocking at your door can prove daunting, and dealing with them can be overwhelming.