A bailiff is a person authorised to collect a debt on behalf of a creditor. A visit from a bailiff can be a daunting experience, so if your are ever in this vulnerable position it would be helpful if you are aware of your rights.
What legal authority must a bailiff have ?
Before a bailiff can pursue a debt they must have a warrant, or warrant of execution issued by a court. You also need to be aware that if you have a loan or rental payments that are in arrears then a creditor may send a ‘debt collector’ to your home to negotiate payment but they do not have the same rights as a bailiff and are primarily there to negotiate a payment schedule.
What should I do if I have been informed of a pending bailiff visit?
A bailiff will only be instructed to visit your home if all other efforts, to gain payment for the outstanding debt, have failed. So, as soon as you are aware of a pending visit you should make every effort to repay the loan and avert their vist. If the debt is an unpaid county court judgement (CCJ) then you can apply to the court to suspend the warrant and vary the payments you were ordered to make.
You can apply to do this using form N245 available from the court, a small fee is payable.
What action should I take if a bailiffs calls?
Never allow a bailiff to enter your home. Once they are inside your home they are allowed to seize goods, owned by the debtor, to the value of the outstanding debt. If you have been given notice that a bailiff visit is imminent make sure you close all windows and lock all doors as soon as you are aware that a bailiff has arrived. Bailiffs will often try to enter your premises by just walking in as soon as you open the door or by asking to enter your house to discuss the outstanding debt. They are not allowed to force entry unless they have been engaged by the HMRC and have a warrant allowing them to force entry, but this is very rare.
Once you have secured your property ask the bailiff to confirm their identity and provide a copy of the the warrant giving them legal authority to pursue the debt.
The bailiff is likely to attempt to gain entry on a number of occasions but will eventually return the warrant to the court or local authority as unexecuted.
What will happen if the bailiffs gains entry to my premises?
When a bailiff enters your premises they will attempt to seize goods belonging to the person who owes the debt.
Once the bailiff has entered your premises they can break open locked doors or cupboards in search of goods. They will also be allowed to return and enter you premises without your permission, even if this is a forced entry.
When the bailiff has indicated the goods they wish to seize they can either remove the them immediately or make a ‘walking possession agreement’. This agreement allows the owner to keep and use the goods concerned, providing they keep up the agreed payments. The bailiff can return at any time and seize the goods if there is a default on any agreement.
If a bailiff visit is regarding outstanding rent then they can seize any property that is in the premises, regardless of ownership. It will then be up to the owner, if they are not party to the debt, to prove ownership.
Is there any property a bailiff cannot seize?
A bailiff cannot seize any items that are considered basic living needs such as cookers, fridges beds etc. Also, they are not allowed to seize anything that is considered tools of trade.
Are there any specific laws covering the activities of bailiffs?
Unfortunately not, back in 2001 a Green Paper concerning bailiff law was prepared but no legislation was introduced.
However, there is a national standard (NSEA) has been put in place covering some elements of the Green Paper. The NSEA is endorsed by a variety of central and local government departments as well as the bailiff’s trade bodies.
The main points of the NSEA are:
- Carry out their duties in a professional, calm and dignified manner.
- They must not misrepresent their powers or abilities, or discriminate on grounds of gender, sexual, orientation, age, ethnicity, race or religion.
- Produce identification and authorisation on request.
- Communicate clearly and provide information (on charges, etc.) promptly.
- Have arrangements for translation services and provision of information in large print, braille, etc.
- Provide procedures for identifying and dealing fairly with vulnerable debtors such as people who are elderly, disabled, those who have been bereaved recently, lone parents, pregnant women, unemployed people, people with language difficulties.
A visit from a bailiff can be a frightening experience so the best course of action is to deal with any debt issues as soon as they arise. Contact your creditors immediately when a problem arises. If you need some support contact the Citizens Advice Bureau who are experienced in dealing with debt issues.