Bankruptcy and Bailiff

Many times prior to a bankruptcy situation a creditor will hire a bailiff to collect a debt owed to them. The Courts use bailiffs to collect judgments, taxes and fines. There are rules the bailiffs must follow. Once an order for bankruptcy has been placed, the bailiff is no longer allowed to collect on a debt.

As of April of 1998, local authorities must send you a letter informing you of a bailiff’s intended visit when the collection is for council tax. They are to give you a 14 day notice of the proposed visit and allow you 7 days to pay this debt. Otherwise, you may be contacted by the bailiff or creditor prior to them calling, or you may not. They should respect the normal office hours when calling.

The fees that bailiffs can charge to collect a debt vary. Seek advice to find out if you are responsible for paying these fees. The Court may decide if they are reasonable or excessive.

Bailiffs must only seize goods of value that belong to the person that owes or is named on a warrant. If a bailiff seizes goods subject to a Hire Purchase agreement, you must seek advice immediately. If you haven’t made a final payment the goods do not belong to you, but may under certain circumstances be seized. If goods have been wrongfully seized the owner can apply for them to be returned.

A bailiff may call a number of times, but must gain peaceful entry. If they cannot gain peaceful entry or you do not have enough goods to cover the debt, they will eventually return the warrant to the Court, authorities, or creditor. It is sometimes best to get the matters back to the Court or proper authorities to be handled properly. For example, if the debt is an unpaid County Court Judgment you can apply to stop “suspend” the warrant and make arrangements to pay installments to the Court. Sometimes the fee can be waived if you are on low income and payment of the fee would involve financial hardship.

If you allow a bailiff to enter your home they have access and the right to search all rooms and break open locks inside the home. They also have the right to return and enter again even if you are not present. They are to make clear the options they have in handling the collection of your debt. They may sell your goods at a public auction to raise the money to pay your debt. They can simply remove the items from the location and store them elsewhere until a decision is made, they might even leave someone on the premises to guard items until seized. These are rarely used tactics. More commonly they will arrange a “walking possession agreement”. This means that the goods that have been seized now legally belong to the bailiff and can be removed at any time. They will allow the items to remain in your home and you can continue to use them providing you keep your side of the agreement, normally set payments.

There are items that a bailiff is not allowed to seize. They are; tools, vehicles and other items of equipment necessary for you to continue employment, business or vocation, clothing, bedding, furniture, and household equipment and provisions that are necessary for basic domestic needs. It is not unlawful if you choose to hide goods or remove items from your home prior to the bailiff’s arrival. If they think you may have done this it could give them reason for a return unannounced visit.

The following are standards set by the National Standards for Enforcement Agents and bailiffs are expected to practice these while carrying out their duties. First is to be professional, calm and dignified, this includes dressing appropriately and acting with discretion and fairness. They are not allowed to misuse their power or authority. Also, they are liable to show identification on request. The communication should be clear from their end and all information would be with them beforehand. In all cases, it should be treated with dignity and morality. If the police are called, to deal with a breach of peace, they must explain their presence. If the only person present is under the age of 18 they must leave. They should as far as possible not disclose the purpose of their visit to anyone that is not the debtor. The visits should ideally be made within normal business hours, no Sundays, holidays, unless the legislation or Court permits. Goods that are clearly those of a child should not be seized. The goods seized should be proportional to the debt and charges owing. When items are removed a receipt should be written and given the debtor. The bailiff must disclose the fees on each visit and if there are any fees for further action. There are no sanctions for non-compliance with these national standards but agents are required to operate complaints and disciplinary procedures.

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