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Dealing with bailiffs

This is a guide for RCN members on dealing with bailiffs. It provides information about your rights and what you should do if a bailiff visits your property.


Introduction

If you have missed payments for debts, then you may be threatened with court action and ultimately bailiffs may be instructed to collect debts on behalf of the court. Don’t ignore a Bailiffs Notice. Depending on the notice you've received, you will have options for stopping the bailiff action, as long as you act quickly. The rules regarding Bailiffs changed on 6 April 2014.

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What is a bailiff?

A bailiff is someone who has varying legal powers to collect certain debts. A bailiff can either be a court official or employed by a registered private firm. They are also referred to as enforcement agents and paperwork you receive from a bailiff should use this term.

If you owe money, a bailiff may visit your home to see if anything you own can be sold to pay the debt. Any money raised from selling belongings is used to pay the bailiff's fees and charges as well as the debts you owe. The fees can sometimes far outweigh the original debt. In most cases you should get a warning that your creditors are considering using bailiffs to get you to repay your debt.

Most creditors will write to you stating that they are considering using bailiffs. However, in some cases, the letters are worded to sound like bailiffs have already been instructed. This can be frightening and confusing so it is important to read the letter fully. If you receive a letter mentioning bailiffs at all then this is the time to either make arrangements to clear arrears or debts.

If you are struggling with repayments then speak to the creditor and see if you can come to an agreement that will stop them taking any further action.

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When can bailifs take action?

In most cases other methods of recovering the debt will have been tried before bailiff action is sanctioned. Bailiffs can only be used for certain types of personal debts. For example:
  • Council tax parking penalties
  • County Court judgments (CCJs) – (for example for non-payment of consumer credit debts)
  • Magistrates' court fines
  • Compensation orders
  • Child support/maintenance payments
  • High Court Judgments
  • Income tax, National insurance and VAT - HMRC

Some business debts can also be subject to bailiff action but are not covered in this factsheet. If you have business debts, seek expert advice.

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What is a debt collector?

Some creditors use debt collectors to try and assist them in recouping monies they believe are owed to them. It is important that you check who you are dealing with. Debt collectors are not bailiffs, and do not have the same legal powers as bailiffs.

Have you received an enforcement notice? This is the official notice that you must be given to confirm that bailiffs have been instructed to act against you. It must follow a set format. However, some enforcements notices go astray. So do check if they are pursuing one of the debts listed above.

Has an officer turned up at your door with no advance notice? Bailiffs must give you certain notices before they can visit your home, so if someone has turned up with no warning, it's probably not a bailiff. Although debt collectors can knock on your door and try and persuade you to pay the debts, they do not have any powers to take your belongings or enter your property without being asked in.

If a debt collector is trying to portray that they are a bailif, you should call us for advice.

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Options for stopping bailiff action

There are a number of different options for stopping bailiff action. The best options for you will depend on your personal situation. However, if you don't think you owe the debt, you should still act as quickly as possible to resolve the situation with the creditor and the bailiff.

1. Offer payment in full to your creditor.

If you can afford to pay off the debt in full, or a family member offers to pay this for you, it is worth doing as soon as possible as the fees charged by the bailiffs for home visits will escalate your debt. Paying in full is still an option even if bailiffs arrive at your door. Ensure you get a receipt for any payments made to the creditor or bailiff.

2. Negotiate directly with your creditor.

You should contact your creditor straight away. Ask them to suspend the bailiff action for a few days while you work out a repayment plan to pay the debt. Where necessary, call us for further advice about how to do this. This will buy you some time to work out what the best next steps are for you.

Next you should:

  • Work out your income and expenditure so you can see how much money you have available to put towards paying your creditor each month
  • Maximise your income, for example explore renting a room out
  • Consider working extra hours or selling anything of value that will generate a lump sum
  • Make an offer to your creditor as soon as you have established how much you can pay off in a lump sum or monthly payment or both.

Make sure you stick to these payments as the creditor can re-instate action at any time.

3. Apply to the court to suspend bailiff action.

If the bailiff is collecting money that you owe under a county court or high court judgment and you can make an offer to pay by installments, you may be able to apply to the court to suspend the bailiff action. An application to have the action suspended and an offer of repayment of the debt in installments can be made to the courts using form N245. See Gov.uk. If you require advice on this process, please call us.

4. Make an offer to the bailiff.

The bailiff may accept a payment either before or during a visit to your property. They may accept part payment of the debt if you can show how you will clear the remainder of the debt. However, this type of negotiation can be difficult and it is best to try and take the steps above to avoid bailiffs visiting your property by making an offer to them as early as possible. Do make sure you always get proof of payment from the bailiff.

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What happens if the bailiffs visit?

Seven days or more after you've received a notice of enforcement, bailiffs will visit your home or business.

A bailiff is allowed to get into your home only through any normal way of entry. For example:

  • a door
  • a gate
  • an attached garage
  • the door of a car, boat, caravan or other vehicle, if that vehicle is your home
  • the entrance of a tent, if that tent is your home
  • a loading bay.

This means that the bailiff is NOT allowed to get into your home or premises through any of these ways:

  • through a a window
  • by climbing over a wall, fence or barrier.
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Do you have to let the bailiffs in?

You don't have to let the bailiff in unless they took control of your belongings on a previous visit.

However, if you refuse the bailiff entry and they can still get into your house without using force (unlocked door), they might do so. They may also apply to the court for permission to use force to get in. This will only be granted in limited situations and for collecting certain debts, such as unpaid criminal fines from the magistrates court and debts to HM Revenue and Customs.

You should never open the door to a bailiff unless you are in a position to repay the debt in full. Only communicate with them through a letter box or shout through a closed door.  

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When can the bailiff force entry?

In some cases bailiffs are allowed to force entry into your home or business premises, but these are for certain types of debt or when they have a court order allowing them to use force.

If bailiffs ever use force you need proof that they have explicit permission from the courts to do this.

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Taking control of goods

If the bailiffs enter your home or business premises, they will walk around your home and start inspecting your belongings with a view to taking control of goods with a second-hand value that would be enough pay off your debt and the bailiff's fees.

The bailiff must not take any goods that are exempt from being taken, and must discuss how you use any goods with you, to make sure they don't take control of exempt goods by mistake.

The bailiff must follow certain processes to take control of goods, including giving you notices explaining what is happening and how you can stop the bailiff action.

If the bailiff can't find any goods to take control of, they will leave and explore other options for finding goods. This may include seeing if you have a vehicle parked on the public highway or applying to the court for authority to enter another property where they believe you have stored goods of value.

If the bailiff has taken away your goods, you can expect to receive a notice of sale, which explains when and how your belongings will be sold. It will also tell you how you can stop the sale from going ahead by paying back your debt.

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Sale of your belongings

Once your belongings have been taken away, the bailiff can make arrangements to sell them. You must be given a notice of sale telling you about this, at least seven days before the sale takes place.

The money raised from the sale of your belongings will be put towards paying off your debts and the bailiff's fees. If your belongings fail to sell, they become abandoned goods and you can get them back. The bailiff must give you a notice of abandonment telling you how you can collect your belongings. Even if you get your belongings back, your debt won't have gone away, and your creditor will look at other options for getting back the money you owe

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Need more advice?

Call RCN Direct on: 0345 772 6100