How to stop bailiffs
Ask for identification
When a bailiff visits your property the first thing you should do is ask who they are and what they want.
If they say they’re a debt collector, and not a bailiff or an enforcement agent, ask them to leave immediately. A debt collector doesn’t have any of the same powers as a bailiff or enforcement agent and must leave when asked.
A bailiff, or an enforcement agent, must always carry proof of who they are. They will either carry a badge, certificate or an ID card. You should also ask which company they represent and request a telephone number for their head office. Use the information supplied to confirm that they are who they say they are. In a situation where you aren’t speaking face to face ask them to show you identification at a window or to pass it through the letterbox.
Always do your best to avoid situations that will allow a bailiff access to gain entry to your property. Keep all doors locked and windows closed. If you have a porch lock the inner door and access the bailiff through the outer door.
Once they have supplied you with their identification immediately check that they are who they say they are.
If they tell you that they are a bailiff telephone the company they work for or check the certified bailiffs register. (http://certificatedbailiffs.justice.gov.uk/)
If they tell you that they are a high court enforcement officer check the members directory. (https://www.hceoa.org.uk/members/authorised-members-directory)
If they tell you that they are a county court bailiff, a family court bailiff, or a civilian enforcement officer then contact the court that sent them. (https://courttribunalfinder.service.gov.uk/)
If at any point the information doesn’t confirm their position ask them to leave and tell them that you will call the police if they refuse to go. If they refuse to leave then dial 999 straight away and report the incident.
In cases of eviction
In the case of a bailiff’s visit to carry out an eviction you have few rights. If a County Court Bailiff is handling your eviction you will have received notice of your eviction date (form N54; Notice of Eviction) and by law you must leave the property on that date.
If a private bailiff hired by the High Court is in control of your eviction they can arrive to evict you without notice. You should already have been made aware by your landlord that they have applied to the High Court to use private bailiffs for your eviction.
In the case of an eviction the bailiffs will arrive at your property between 9am and 5pm. They will ask you to leave and you must hand them your keys and go.
They are not allowed to use physical violence or offensive language so neither should you. If you refuse to comply or display acts of inappropriate behaviour that could lead to the committing of a crime then a bailiff can call the police. You can be arrested for a breech of the peace or assault to either the bailiff, any of their staff, a member of the public or a police officer.
You should pack your belongings prior to their visit. They do not have to wait or give you additional time for this. They have the right to remove your belongings from the property and place them outside. They also have the right to lock any belongings you haven’t removed inside the property. You must apply to collect your belongings from the landlord at a later date.
They cannot damage your belongings nor can they keep any items to cover costs or to go towards paying off your debt. This arrangement can only be acted upon if a previous order with the court has been made and the bailiff holds the correct paperwork.
Your landlord must keep any belongings left behind safe for a reasonable amount of time. You may be charged for storage, removal or disposal if you don’t make adequate arrangements to collect them.
How to deal with bailiffs
It is always in your best interests to prevent unnecessary conflict by resolving the situation as quickly and as efficiently as possible.
Contact the bailiffs as soon as you can and agree to a repayment schedule that is agreeable to both parties.
If you do give a bailiff access to your property and you can’t afford to repay the debt at that time then you will normally have to make a ‘controlled goods agreement’. This will be a payment plan to repay the debt and also the cost of the bailiff fees. If you refuse to make a controlled goods agreement the bailiff is entitled to remove your belongings to sell and pay off all or part of your debt.
The controlled goods agreement will stop the bailiff taking any goods at that time and it will include an inventory of belongings they will take at a future date in order to cover the debt incurred.
If at any time you break the controlled goods agreement the bailiff can return and remove any or all of the goods on the inventory.
If at any time you believe a bailiff has broken any of the rules then contact your creditor immediately and report the situation. If the creditor doesn’t act accordingly then you should contact Citizen’s Advice or in extreme cases where you believe a law has been broken you can contact the police.
What can the bailiffs take?
A bailiff can take any item that you own or you part own. They can only take your belongings if you give them access to your property. They can’t take any items if you do not let them in.
There are specific rules about what they can and can’t take. If they are recovering the debt of another person who lives in your property they cannot take anything that belongs to you, they can only remove items owned by the person who has incurred the debt.
A bailiff can’t take a guide dog or pets. They are not allowed to take any vehicles, tools or computer equipment up to the value of £1,350 that you need to do your job or study. They cannot take anything currently being bought on finance – this includes motor vehicles. They are also not entitled to take Motability vehicles or any vehicle displaying a valid Blue Badge.
Other items a bailiff is not entitled to remove from your property are those that are considered your ‘basic domestic needs’. These are things that are seen as items you need to live – a table and chairs for every member of your household, beds and bedding for each person, a cooker, a microwave, a fridge, a washing machine, your mobile phone or telephone, and any medicines or special care equipment for children or an older person.
Can bailiffs enter your home?
It’s always in your best interest if you can prevent the bailiff from entering your home.
To recover a debt they will visit you between 6am and 9pm. Visits to your property outside of these times are by special order only.
Do not open the door. You should ask them what they want by speaking through the door, using a door-chain or through the letterbox if possible. If you can safely join them outside to discuss the matter then do so. Do not give them a chance to gain access to your property so make sure you close and lock the door behind you. Unless they have a court order they can’t force entry, they can only enter the property if they’re invited.
Another option is to discuss matters over the phone. You can prevent problems by choosing to do this before their visit. You should have received notification by post of their visit, which would allow you to make a phone call and resolve the matter in advance.
Extenuating circumstances – ‘vulnerable’ cases
In certain cases a debtor is classed as ‘vulnerable’. The bailiff will have to give additional rights to you if you are classed as vulnerable.
Vulnerable cases are those who are disabled, seriously ill, have mental health problems, have children or are pregnant (especially if you are a single parent), if you are under 18 or over 65, or you don’t speak or understand English to an appropriate standard. You can also be classed as vulnerable if you’ve recently been through stressful or emotional circumstances.
If you are vulnerable then you must contact the bailiffs as soon as possible to explain your situation. You must explain why dealing with the bailiffs is difficult for you, ask them to cancel all further visits, and also make them aware of how any further communication may affect you in your position; for example, if you have a heart condition, stress problem or mental health disorder.
You should also tell your creditor that you are vulnerable and make efforts with them to find a way to pay your debt in a way that’s acceptable to you both in order to avoid further complications, additional stress and unnecessary costs.
If you are a carer for a vulnerable person you must tell the bailiff straight away, explain the person’s situation and that you will be standing in for them.
A bailiff can ask for proof of vulnerability. You can send a doctor’s letter, confirmation by the social services or DWP, proof of payments of special benefits or a council tax bill outlining the people who live in your home if appropriate. Always send copies and not the originals and always ask for proof of posting. Proof of posting is free and can be used as evidence if documents go missing. You can request your case be put on hold while gathering relevant information. This could buy you valuable time and peace of mind by avoiding stressful confrontation.
Can bailiffs force entry?
A bailiff has the right to force entry into your home or place of business if they hold a ‘warrant’ or a ‘writ’ from the court. Documents must be signed and dated and show your correct address.
A bailiff will be granted such an order if they are collecting unpaid magistrates court fines or tax debts from the HM Revenue and Customs.
The bailiff isn’t allowed to break down your door but they are allowed to use ‘reasonable force’. This means they are entitled to bring with them a locksmith who can unlock the door in order to gain entry. However, this is rare. You should have plenty of notice to repay your debt before a bailiff will take this level of action.
What rights do bailiffs have?
A bailiff isn’t allowed to force entry if collecting other debts such as council tax arrears, credit card or catalogue debts, parking fines, or money owed to utility suppliers.
Can a bailiff take my car?
Yes. It’s normally the first thing they look for because it is seen has a high value item and can be taken without access to you or your home.
If you think a bailiff is likely to take your car consider moving it to another location. A bailiff can’t take anything they can’t find. They can’t force you to take them to it or hand it over.
A bailiff can’t remove or clamp a vehicle if it’s in a locked garage, another person’s driveway or in a car park.
They also cannot take your vehicle if it has a valid Blue Badge or is a Motability vehicle, they cannot take a vehicle that is still being paid for on finance, if you need it for your job and it’s value is less than £1,350 or if your vehicle is your home (i.e.; a campervan or motorhome).
Once clamped a bailiff can return and remove your vehicle after a minimum of 2 hours. To avoid having your vehicle removed you must pay off your debt immediately or complete a ‘controlled goods agreement’ with your bailiff.
What if the bailiffs at my door are looking for someone else?
If a bailiff is attempting to recover a debt from your property that isn’t yours then do not allow them access at any point. Make it clear that the person they are looking for isn’t available and to return at some other time.
If a bailiff has gained access to your property to retrieve goods in order to cover someone else’s debt they cannot take anything that doesn’t belong to the debtor unless they part own the item with someone else. In this case the bailiff has the power to seize those goods.
If a letter from the bailiff arrives foretelling a visit to someone who no longer resides at the property you can return it with ‘not at this address’ printed on the envelope. You are not liable for anybody else’s debts who has lived in your home before you or currently shares the property with you.
To prove who lives at the property provide a copy of your council tax bill or request they check the electoral roll for proof of residence.
Talk About Debt can provide help to anyone who is anyone struggling with bailiff action or council tax debt. To benefit from our bailiff help and advice, all you have to do is simply contact us today on 0808 156 7730