Dealing with Bailiffs - Know Your Rights

Visits from bailiffs can be very upsetting. However, if you know your rights and obligations it is easier to deal with them. This guide explains your rights in a question answer format.

What is a bailiff?

Bailiffs are legal officers with some degree of authority. There are several different kinds of bailiffs and their offices and duties vary greatly.

What are the different types of bailiffs?

The main types of bailiffs are county court bailiffs, certificated bailiffs and private bailiffs. Bailiffs can be used to collect different types of debts depending on their nature. These types of debt include County Court Judgments, Unpaid Council Tax, Magistrates Court Fines, Child Support Agency, and Outstanding Rent etc.

Can they break my door down?

For individual debts, bailiffs do not have the right to enter your private property forcefully. They may enter your home through an open window or door. However, bailiffs visiting for Inland Revenue or Customs & Excise can enter your home forcefully. If you owe a business debt, all the bailiffs can enter your property by force.

Can anyone be a bailiff?

Yes, anyone with a legal authority to carry out the specified actions can be a bailiff. Both men and women can be bailiffs.

What Legal Authority must a bailiff have?

The bailiffs must present a legal document called “Warrant of Execution” or simply warrant on their visit. Warrant gives the bailiffs the authority to collect values on behalf of the Creditor. Whereas bailiffs collecting council tax arrears, outstanding court fines or unpaid maintenance will be carrying a Distress Warrant or a Liability Order issued by the Magistrates’ Court.

What items can a bailiff take?

Bailiffs can take any goods from your house you owe or jointly owe with your partner.

What items the bailiff cannot take?

Bailiffs, depending on their nature, cannot take many household things.

Bailiffs acting on the behalf of Magistrate’s Court cannot take goods needed for basic domestic needs including clothing, beds, cooker, fridge, freezer etc. They also may not take the basic tools and accessories required for your business.

Bailiff other than mentioned above can not take your basic necessities i.e. furniture and fixtures, clothing, bedding etc. they also may not take vehicles, goods, tools and other necessary items required for your business.

Can I hide my goods?

Yes, the law allows you to hide your valuable goods before the bailiffs’ visit.

What if the bailiffs seize goods that do not belong to me?

If the bailiffs have seized someone else’s goods, the original owner can apply for their return. Hire Purchase goods are not your possession until you pay the last installment. In case the bailiffs try to seize such goods you should get help from a professional.

Can a bailiff call at night or on a weekend?

Bailiffs can call you at any time, however, they usually call during the normal office timings i.e. 8:00 am to 8:00 pm. Bailiffs collecting rent must call you during the office hours.

What about exceptional circumstances?

If you are encountering extreme financial issues or other problems i.e. unemployment, bereavement or divorce, you should contact Court and request for flexibility in collection process.

Do bailiffs charge any fees?

Yes they do, in fact they charge a lot. Bailiffs may charge up to £50 per visit and some extra amount for their time they spend at your home or any storage cost incurred. When you are already facing financial problems you must try to resolve your debt problems before the bailiffs ring your doorbell to avoid their fee.

What is a walking possession agreement?

The bailiffs can seize goods and may allow them to remain in your home and you can continue to use them providing you keep your side of the agreement, e.g. you make agreed payments. This is called walking possession agreement. These things belong to the bailiff and can be removed anytime.

Will I get advance notice of a bailiff visit and fees?

A notice must be sent 14 days prior to the bailiffs’ visit in order to collect council tax whereas County Court bailiffs must send a notice 7 days before they visit your home. If you pay your debt or come to a repayment agreement with the creditors during this time, the bailiff’s visit is cancelled.

How can I complain about a bailiff?

If you are ill treated, depending on the nature of the bailiffs, you can complain your creditors who sent the bailiffs, the County Court or a trade association. The two main trade associations and their contact addresses are:

Certificated Bailiffs Association c/o
Ridgefield House 14 John Dalton Street MANCHESTER M2 6JR tel. 0161 839 7225

Association of Civil Enforcement Agencies
Chesham House 150 Regent Street LONDON W1R FA tel. 0207 432 0366; f: 0207 432 0516

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