A bailiff is almost synonymous to stress, fear, and pressure. They even thought of a lighter term for them: enforcement agents.
Regardless of what we call them, we should be aware of what to do, what not to do, your rights, and responsibilities when you’re dealing with a bailiff.
Are Bailiffs Debt Collectors?
Bailiffs are people who were vested by the court on behalf of the creditors, and have legal rights and powers to collect debts. While the debt collectors are people who were hired by private firms that help them collect debts.
Also, bailiffs can only collect debt if it has a court process, and once court confirms, they are allowed to collect debts for the borrower or take item from them. On the other hand, debt collector doesn’t have the same legal power as what bailiffs have, and are not authorized to take item in exchange of the debt.
So rest assured, unlike the bailiffs, a visit from a debt collector is not that common, as they can’t take anything from you or force their way in.
If unsure whether you’re talking to a bailiff or a debt collector, it would be best to reach out to the national debtline: +44 808 808 4000
Why would a Bailiff call me or pay a visit to my house?
These are not only the reasons for why a bailiff may visit your home, but these are the more common ones:
- council tax arrears
- credit card or catalogue debts
- unpaid parking tickets
- money you owe to energy or phone companies
Step 1: Notice of Enforcement
Before a bailiff visit your home, you’d be receiving a Notice of Enforcement. It would look like this:
Once they’ve sent the Notice of Enforcement, they’d be waiting for 7 clear days before visiting your house (this doesn’t include the day you get the notice, the day of the visit or Sundays and bank holidays). Also, it would be best to check these information when checking on the Notice of Enforcement:
- correct details (name, address, the amount of the debt, and where it came from)
- it’s a registered bailiff
- discloses that you’re given a 7-day notice before they can visit you
Once you’ve received the Notice of Enforcement, check if you owe the debt that they’re pertaining to.
You won’t owe the debt if, either it belong to someone that has a name that’s similar with yours, or you’ve already settled this debt. If you don’t owe this debt, collect as much information need to prove that. Your evidence could include:
- a receipt for the payment
- a copy of the debt statement showing final payment
- a letter from the creditor saying the debt is paid
- a direct debit payment statement
What if I owe the debt? Call the bailiff (which you can find their number on the Notice of Enforcement) right away if you’re able to pay the debt. Never forget to ask for the receipt, to avoid further contacts.
On the other hand, if you’re unable to pay the debt, you could always negotiate, either paying small regular payments or writing off the debt.
Extra Charges from the Bailiff
There are fees charged depending on the bailiffs that are dealing with your debt, and they charge more when they’re from the High Court.
Note: You can check the fees on the letters that the bailiff have sent you. Also, they have to say they’re from the High Court when they visit you.
Bailiffs follow 3 stages, and every stage has a fixed charge on each stage, but they are allowed to charge you an extra fee if your debt is above £1,500 (the charge only applies to the amount of debt over £1,500, and not the entire amount of your debt.
- Compliance – this is when the sent you the Notice of Enforcement. An added £75 as a fixed rate, but has no additional fee for debts over £1,500
- Enforcement – when the 7-day waiting period has passed, and they’ll then proceed on visiting your home. A fixed fee of £235, and 7.5% extra for debts over £1,500
- Sale – taking and selling of your belongings. Charged with a fixed fee of £110, plus 7.5% extra for debts over £1,500
So, if you have a debt of £2000, a 7.5% extra fee will be applied to £500, which is £37.50.
On the other hand, if the bailiffs are from the High Court, they have an added stage on collecting debt. They can charge you more if you didn’t reach an agreement with them.
They are allowed to charge you an extra fee if your debt is above £1,000 (the charge only applies to the amount of debt over £1,000, and not the entire amount of your debt.
- Compliance – this is when the sent you the Notice of Enforcement. An added £75 as a fixed rate, but has no additional fee for debts over £1,000.
- Enforcement 1 – when the 7-day waiting period has passed, and they’ll then proceed on visiting your home. A fixed fee of £190, and 7.5% extra for debts over £1,000
- Enforcement 2 – when you didn’t reach or make an agreement. A fixed fee of £495 but has no additional fee for debts over £1,000.
- Sale – taking and selling of your belongings. Charged with a fixed fee of £525, plus 7.5% extra for debts over £1,000
What if a bailiff is collecting more than one debt? They could charge you £75 for every compliance fee on every debt, but they can’t charge you more than the fee for visiting and for selling your belongings.
What if there are more than one bailiffs for dealing with your debts? You’ll be charged separately.
On your bill, you could also see disbursement fees. These are fees that may come from the following:
- locksmiths for force entry
- court fees, if the bailiff has applied to court to deal with your case
- up to 7.5% of the price when your belongings are sold via online auction
- advertising and auctioneer’s fee
- storage for your belongings
Bailiffs could also charge you for other fees and services, but only if they got a court order for the charge.
Also, always ask for a receipt from a bailiff to check whether the charges are reasonable. You can compare these costs by asking quotes from similar service.
If you think that a bailiff is charging your with the wrong amount, you could write a complain to your creditor, so that the Bailiff could either cancel the fees or return your money if you’ve already paid.
Also, if a bailiff charged you for a fee without the approval of the court, you could also write a complain, and this may lead to the Bailiff’s license being revoked.
Worst case scenario, you’ll let a judge decide on whether the bailiff can charge you for the fees or not.
How a bailiff should treat someone who’s vulnerable?
There are circumstances when you’re having difficulty dealing with bailiffs, and they would consider you as “vulnerable”. You can be considered vulnerable if you’re under the following situations:
- mental health
- having children or being pregnant, especially for single parents
- you don’t speak fluent English
- under 18 or over 65, and you’re age makes it hard to deal with bailiffs
- person with disability
They can also treat your as vulnerable on other instances such as being a victim of a crime, unemployment, or death of a relative.
Just give the bailiff a heads up, that either a relative or a friend can act on behalf of the borrower, or through the power of attorney.
If you’re currently vulnerable, and received a letter from the bailiff, it would be best to call them or have someone to call them on your behalf as soon as possible.
You’d also need to inform your creditor, as some creditor won’t use bailiffs if you’re vulnerable and rather would settle with your through installments.
What should a bailiff do and how would they treat you if you’re vulnerable?
Bailiff should never come into your home if you’re alone in your home and should never threaten to take things that would be helpful to your health. They could also give you an extra time to settle your debt, and ask for them to put your debt on hold. Also, Bailiffs should send letters in braille if the borrower is visually impaired, and should have a translator with them when visiting a borrower that has difficulty speaking in English.
Dealing with someone underage. If you’re 16 and below, a bailiff is not allowed to enter your home. Also, a bailiff should never talk to a child younger than 12 years old, and should never take things that are used for the child’s care (this includes games and toys).
Bailiffs could sometimes ask for proofs of vulnerability. So it would be best to send them a copy of your doctor’s note, a letter from DWP or social services, or council tax bill that show the adults that you’re living with.
When should a bailiff enter your home?
There are only a few reasons for a bailiff to forcibly enter your home. This could be criminal fines (traffic and parking offence are not criminal fines) from a magistrate court, or tax debts to HMRC (Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs).
Upon forcibly entering your home, they would need to provide a proof of your debt, a warrant or writ from a court.
Also, forcibly entering your home doesn’t mean breaking down your door. They would be asking help from a locksmith who will unlock the door.
Other than that, bailiffs are not allowed to forcibly enter your home.
Important! Bailiffs should never pass you, so always make sure to keep all your doors shut, and only talk to bailiffs through the letterbox.
Can you be imprisoned for not paying your debt?
You can be sent to prison if your unpaid debts are council taxes, but only in rare occasions. Remember, magistrates can wipe off your debt if ever you’re unable to settle or pay for it anymore.
Don’t panic. They always offer arrangements for you to settle what you owe.
What items can a bailiff take?
Can bailiffs take your car or motorcycles? Yes, but there are guidelines to it. They can’t take a vehicle when:
- You don’t own the car. It might be registered under your name but the car was bought by someone else.
- if it’s currently on financing such as HP (hire purchase), PCP (personal contract purchase), or through a logbook loan
- it has a disabled blue badge
- it’s a motor home
- if the car’s value is less than £1,350 and there are no available transport in your area
What to do with your car if you’re receive a letter from a bailiff? It would be best to park your car in a different garage or parking space. Bailiffs are not allowed to take a car that’s parked on a land that belongs to someone else without a court order.
In addition, bailiffs are not allowed to take these items:
- children’s toys
- items you bought through hire purchase
- things that are in your house but doesn’t belong to you
- items and appliances that are essential to your daily living or work
If they are trying to get an item that isn’t yours, you can provide proof to the bailiff, such as receipt, their bank statement, or letter that prove their ownership.
Receiving a letter from the Bailiff should always be priority number 1. So when the time you’d be receiving a letter from a Bailiff, you could go back to this article as a guide, and we hope things turn out well soon.
Never hesitate to ask for help. You could always reach out to Citizens Advice. Also, you can call the National Debtline for advice: +44 808 808 4000