Bailiffs are individuals authorised to collect debts on behalf of creditors in Britain.
However, many people are unaware of the extent of their powers and whether they can legally seize belongings for someone else’s debt.
It’s a common concern among those who may live with or know the person who owes the debt.
Do different bailiffs have different powers?
In the UK, there are different types of bailiffs and debt collectors, each with distinct powers and responsibilities.
County Court bailiff
County Court bailiffs are authorised to collect debts related to County Court Judgments (CCJs), including income tax arrears.
They can enter a property to seize assets to cover the debt owed, but they must follow strict guidelines and cannot use force.
High Court enforcement officer
High Court enforcement officers are appointed by the High Court to enforce High Court judgments and have more extensive powers than County Court bailiffs.
They can enter a property without notice and use reasonable force to seize assets to cover the debt owed, including income tax arrears.
Private enforcement agents
Private enforcement agents, also known as debt collectors, work on behalf of private debt collection agencies and can collect debts from individuals or businesses.
A debt collector does not have the same powers as County Court bailiffs or High Court enforcement officers and cannot seize assets without a court order.
Certificated enforcement agents
A certificated enforcement agent, who is authorised by the courts, has the power to enforce a range of debts, such as council tax arrears and parking fines.
They must have a valid enforcement agent certificate and follow strict guidelines when seizing assets to cover the debt owed.
They cannot use force and must provide notice before entering a property.
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What can the bailiff company take?
In general, bailiffs cannot list items that are essential to daily life (or for “basic domestic needs”) so they will not list your bed or means to cook food but may list your chest of drawers, or a cupboard as these are not essential.
It is possible that they could take some of your chairs as long as they leave enough for every member of your household.
You should also note that bailiffs are not permitted to force entry to a property for most types of debts (the main exception being Magistrates’ Court fines) unless they have visited the property previously in order to take control of goods.
If you’re worried about bailiffs taking action against you there is government legislated debt help available that can help stop enforcement as well as write off up to 90% unsecured debt.
Can bailiffs take sofas?
Bailiffs cannot take anything that is required for basic domestic living needs. Since you may need your sofa for domestic use, it may not be taken.
However, if you own more sofas than required in your household i.e. there are only 2 people in your household and you own 3 sofas.
Then the bailiffs may deem the spare sofas unnecessary and these can be taken.
Can bailiffs take my children’s things or belongings?
Bailiffs can only take control of the goods that belong to the person who owes the debt and is named on the enforcement notice.
Any items that belong to other people, which could be a partner, lodger, children or anyone else, can’t be taken. If goods are jointly owned with someone else they can be taken.
If you have proof of purchase for your child’s property then you can provide this to the bailiff company and advise them that the item belongs to your children.
They will then be able to advise you of the process for claiming back your goods if they are seized.
On the other hand, if your child is an adult and has debts then their belongings could be listed and seized by bailiffs attempting to collect the debt.
Can bailiffs take items that don’t belong to me?
If you are not the person who owes the debt then you do not have to pay it and they do not have the ability to take your property for someone else’s debt.
If the person who owes the debt has their belongings at your property then they will try to gain peaceful entry to seize their property to pay the debt.
Bailiffs act on the paperwork provided to them, if they have a court order that says they need to come to your address then this is the place they will visit.
When they arrive at the address they are there to recover the debt owed from the person who owes the debt, they will try to take control of property belonging to the person who owes the debt.
Can bailiffs take my stuff for my son’s debt at my address?
A bailiff can only seize goods belonging to the debtor, but the onus is on you or your son to prove ownership.
A bailiff is also restricted as to what they can or cannot seize, however they would have a right to look in every room of the house.
Therefore it may be possible if ownership is not proved that bailiffs can take the parent’s stuff for their son/daughter’s debt.
Can a bailiff take my hire purchase vehicle?
If you have a hire purchase agreement on a vehicle, it technically belongs to the finance company until you have fully paid off the amount owed. As a result, a bailiff cannot take a hire purchase vehicle for debts that are unrelated to the hire purchase agreement.
However, if the debt in question is related to the hire purchase agreement, such as missed payments or arrears, then the finance company may be able to use a bailiff to repossess the vehicle.
In this scenario, the bailiff is acting on behalf of the finance company and has the legal authority to take the vehicle to recover the debt owed.
It is important to note that there are certain legal requirements that must be met before a bailiff can seize a vehicle.
For example, they must have a valid warrant or court order and can only take the vehicle from a public location or a private location that is accessible to the public.
Can bailiffs take goods belonging to my landlord?
An enforcement agent should not take control of, remove, goods that clearly belong solely to a third party who is not responsible for the debt.
If you show the tenancy agreement and the inventory to the bailiff then they should have sufficient proof that the goods belong to someone else and are not available to them.
If you cannot provide this then it would be reasonable for them to assume you own the contents of your flat and the Landlord would then have to take action to recover their goods.
Can bailiffs come back to take further goods after the debt has been paid off?
As you have paid off the debt then there should be no reason for the bailiffs to return to take control of or seize, any property. If you believe that the enforcement agents have not acted in the correct fashion then you can make a complaint.
There are various routes for complaints about bailiffs, you can find the details for this on the Citizens Advice website.
Can bailiffs take my possessions if I am in jail?
Most prisons do have specialist advisers that you can arrange to see for help with housing problems if you can arrange to see one as soon as possible to see if there is any assistance available to help with your rent. You may also find the fact sheets available on the Citizens Advice website useful.
Can bailiffs seize goods even when the debtor is not there?
If you let the bailiffs into the property and allow them to list or “levy” the debtor’s goods then they are able to re-enter the property and seize the goods to repay debts.
Once the goods are taken the debtor has 7 days to pay off the debt before the goods are sold. The fact that the debtor was not at the property when the bailiffs called does not matter.
How do I prove that the items are mine?
You could write up an inventory and maybe use a statutory declaration as a method of presenting proofs, you may need to take legal advice on this. This is sometimes used as a means of presenting proof of ownership where bailiffs are collecting for debt.
You can read the information on the Citizen’s Advice website. If you are trying to prove ownership as part of an insurance claim then it may be that you have to ask them directly whether they will seek alternative proofs such as bank statements, photos, videos.
In some cases, you will also be able to use handwritten receipts. Some smaller, independent shops do still use handwritten receipts, so there is nothing to say that a handwritten receipt cannot be provided as proof of purchase for any items.
Can bailiffs seize my possessions over an unpaid phone bill?
If the unpaid mobile contract bill has had a court judgment made against it, enforceable by execution, then bailiffs may try to collect on this debt.
However, they would have to gain peaceable entry into the property before they can levy goods. Peaceable entry can be implied, however, so it would be advisable to keep all windows and doors locked in this instance.
If bailiffs have gained entry to the property, then they have the right to levy goods and return to the property and force entry if necessary.
How can I stop bailiffs taking my stuff if I owe money?
If you owe money and are concerned about bailiffs taking your belongings, there are several steps you can take to stop this from happening.
Seek debt advice
Seek debt advice from organisations such as Citizens Advice, who can offer free and impartial advice on managing debt and dealing with bailiffs. They can provide guidance on your rights and options for resolving the debt.
Contact your creditors about a repayment plan
Contact your creditors about a repayment plan. Often, creditors will be willing to work with you to agree on a repayment plan that is affordable and manageable for both parties. This can help to prevent the need for bailiffs to be involved.
Consider using a formal debt solution
These solutions can help to write off some of your debts and provide a structured repayment plan that is affordable and tailored to your specific circumstances. This can prevent bailiffs from being involved and help you to regain control of your finances.
It is important to take action as soon as possible if you are struggling with debt to prevent the situation from escalating and bailiffs becoming involved. Seeking advice and support can help you to navigate the complex process of managing debt and find a solution that works for you.
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How do I repay Magistrates Court fines?
If you have been issued with an unpaid criminal fine by a Magistrates Court, you can repay the fine in several ways:
Online – You can pay your fine online using the government’s secure payment service. You will need your court reference number, which can be found on the fine enforcement letter that was sent to you.
By phone – You can pay your fine by phone using a debit or credit card. Contact the fines enforcement team at the Magistrates Court that issued the fine to arrange payment.
By post – You can send a cheque or postal order made payable to HM Courts & Tribunals Service, along with your payment slip to the address provided on the fine enforcement letter.
In person – You can pay your fine in person at any Magistrates Court in England and Wales. Contact the court in advance to arrange an appointment.
If you are unable to pay the fine in full, you may be able to set up a payment plan. You should contact the fines enforcement team at the Magistrates Court that issued the fine to discuss your options.
It is important to take action to settle a court fine as soon as possible to avoid additional fees and enforcement action, such as bailiffs being involved.
What should I do if a bailiff takes my belongings wrongfully?
If a bailiff has taken your belongings wrongfully, there are steps you can take to address the situation.
Check the bailiff’s identification
Before taking any action, make sure the individual is a certified bailiff and has the legal authority to seize your belongings.
Collect any evidence that supports your claim, such as receipts, photographs, or witness statements. This can help you to build a strong case.
Contact the bailiff company
Contact the bailiff company and inform them of the situation. Provide them with details of the wrongful seizure and ask them to return your belongings.
Complain to the bailiff’s professional body
If you are unable to resolve the issue with the bailiff company, you can complain to their professional body.
The bailiff should be a member of a professional organisation, such as the Civil Enforcement Association or the High Court Enforcement Officers Association.
Seek legal advice
If you have suffered financial loss or damage to your property as a result of the wrongful seizure, you may wish to seek legal advice.
A solicitor can advise you on your rights and help you to seek compensation.