What is a Bailiff?

A bailiff is someone who has got authority to collect debt as a representative of creditors like banks, lending societies or financial institutions. There are different types of bailiffs, county court bailiffs, certified bailiffs, and private bailiffs who can be used to collect different types of debts. These debts may include county court judgments, unpaid council tax, magistrates court fines, unpaid maintenance to the Child Support Agency and even outstanding rent.

Different bailiffs have different levels of authority and power to collect debts. However there are certain rules that apply to all bailiffs. Anyone can be a bailiff, provided they have the legal authority to carry out their actions. Some creditors prefer to use certified bailiffs to collect their debts. To be certified means the firm that the bailiffs work for has provided references to the county court and the bailiffs they employ are considered to be “fit and proper” persons.

A bailiff must be legally authorized to collect the debt on behalf of a creditor. The authority is normally known as a “warrant” or “warrant of execution” if the bailiff is recovering money owed under a county court judgment. A “distress warrant” or a “liability order” is issued by the magistrates of the court when the need to collect unpaid council tax, outstanding fines, compensation or unpaid maintenance is the situation. If you are behind on your payments, the creditor can sometimes send a representative to your home to try to collect, or negotiate repayments. They are known as “counselors” “collectors” or “advisors”. They do not have the authority or power to enter you home and seize any of your goods.

Bailiffs should always provide proper identification and authorization if you ask them to. Bailiffs collecting rent must show their certificate from the county court if you ask to see it. And, bailiffs collecting unpaid council tax must show written authorization from the local authority. Here are a few more things to remember about bailiffs. Only bailiffs that are collecting rent are obligated to call between sunrise and sunset, all other bailiffs can call at any time of the day or night. Most bailiffs should call at a “reasonable” time either during normal office hours or between 6 am and 9 pm. Most bailiffs do not have the right to force their way into your home to seize goods. The only exception to that is a bailiff from the Collector of Taxes (Inland Revenue) can get a warrant to force entry, and this is very rare. All other bailiffs must follow the rules of peaceful entry.

This means they cannot use force and break windows or doors. They may enter through an open door or window or climb a fence. But they are not to destroy any property upon entry. You do not have to let a bailiff into your home, and they cannot force their way past you. They cannot gain peaceful entry into your house unless you voluntarily allow them to enter. Bailiffs are aware of their limited power and may use that to gain entry. For example they may ask to use your telephone, or ask you if you would prefer to discuss matters inside. You don’t have to go along with these tactics. If the bailiff is accompanied by the police, this does not mean that you will be arrested or imprisoned for not allowing the bailiff entry into your home. You cannot be imprisoned for not paying your debts. However, a nonpayment of council tax, child maintenance, or magistrate’s court fines can lead to imprisonment if you willfully refuse to pay. This means that the magistrate’s court must be satisfied that you have the money but have chosen not to pay. You would be required to appear in court and explain why you have not paid.

Once gaining entry into your home, a bailiff will usually try to find and seize any goods of value belonging to the person who owes the debt or who is named on the warrant. A visit from a bailiff can be a frightening and distressing experience. It is important that you are informed of what a bailiff can and cannot do if they visit your home. You need to know what your rights are. Please do not attempt to remove a bailiff from your home, once they have gained peaceful entry. This would result in assault and you will be taken to Court. You can also contact your nearest Citizens Advice Bureau or advice center as soon as possible for more information on bailiffs. Just remember that you do not have to allow the bailiff to enter your home. Bailiffs should carry out their duties in a professional and calm manner. Eventually if they cannot gain peaceful entry, they will return the warrant to the court or proper authority.

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