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Bailiffs (enforcement agents) are granted legal powers by the courts to enforce depts through the collection of personal belongings and agreement with individuals who owe the debt.
Alternatively, you may be contacted by a debt collection agency who do not have any legal powers and will instead request cooperation to agree a repayment plan for the debt. Individuals can find interacting with bailiffs or enforcement agents highly stressful and can often be uncertain of a bailiff’s duties, powers, and responsibilities. Bailiffs will contact individuals who fail to pay outstanding debts to recover the value of that debt through direct payments or personal property obtained from your home. There are three main types of debts that can be recovered through bailiff action:
• Council tax bills
• Parking fines
• Court fines such as county court, high court, or family court judgements.
Prior to a bailiff attending your property, you will be given at least 7 days’ notice of their intention to visit. It is recommended that individuals contact the bailiff to discuss the outstanding debt in a timely manner as this can often avoid them visiting your property.
Bailiffs entry powers
If the bailiff is not contacted and the debt has not been settled, they can choose to attend your property to recover the value of the debt. When attending the property, bailiffs give you an opportunity to pay the outstanding debt before exercising their rights to enter the home.
Bailiffs can gain access to your property where you give them permission to enter or, in cases of criminal fines, income tax or stamp duty, where they have been given express permission by the courts to use reasonable force to enter your home. This permission will be issued in the form of a court warrant or writ and should be shown to you before they attempt to access your home. It is your responsibility to check that the documents are signed, in date and have the correct name attached to them.
Bailiffs must use reasonable force to access the home which means that they can enter through any unlocked doors or can choose to use a locksmith where the doors are locked. However, this method should only be used in extreme circumstances and bailiffs should actively communicate with you to try to avoid this outcome.
Bailiffs are not able to enter your home using unreasonable force, for example, they should not push past someone, enter during unsociable hours (21:00 - 06:00) or where there is no one over the age of 16 in the house.
What can bailiffs take?
If you let a bailiff into your home, or they enter using reasonable force, they may take some of your belongings to sell and recover the debt. Bailiffs can only take luxury items such as a television and cannot take essential items such as a fridge, work equipment worth less than £1,350 or items belonging to another person. However, you will need to prove those items do not belong to you using receipts or bank statements as evidence.
If bailiffs are unable to gain access to your property, they can take personal belongings from outside your home such as a personal car, unless it has valid Blue Badge or is needed for your job and worth less than £1,350. During the first visit bailiffs usually draw up an ‘inventory’ of anything that they could take control of and sell to recover your debt. If you are unable to pay the debt in full, it is advisable to make a ‘controlled good agreement’ which prevents them removing belongings they have taken control of and places you on a repayment plan.
Bailiffs are required to act reasonably and cannot harass, threaten, or take inappropriate belongings from your home. If you feel you have not been treated unfairly by a bailiff, you are able to raise a formal complaint regarding
their conduct. If the bailiff is acting on behalf of the local council to collect tax debt, you can complain to the local council directly in the first instance and escalate the complaint through the Local Government Ombudsman if you are not happy with their response. If the bailiff is acting on behalf of the county or family courts enforcing a court fine, you can complain to the court directly.
Northern Ireland, Republic of Ireland and Scotland
The role of ‘bailiff’ differs fundamentally across other jurisdictions. For more information about your rights, please contact Health Assured on 0800 028 0199.
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