Dealing with bailiffs

If you have not made payments to a debt, a creditor might try to get its money back by using a bailiff.

Is the baliff at your door? Do you need immediate help? Complete the priority call me back information below.

What is a bailiff?
Can anyone be a bailiff?
What legal authority must a bailiff have before calling on me?
How do I know that it is a bailiff at my house?
Do I have to let the bailiffs into my home?
Am I breaking the law if I refuse to let the bailiff into my house?
Could a bailiff force entry to my property?
Are there any goods that a bailiff is not allowed to seize?
What should I do if a bailiff threatens me?
Do bailiffs visit without prior notice?
Is there a cost of the visits?
Does a debt collector have the same powers as a bailiff?
Professional Standards of bailiffs
How do I complain about a bailiff?
Statutory Regulations
Contact details for the relevant industry bodies

What is a bailiff

A bailiff is someone authorised to collect a debt on behalf of a creditor (i.e. someone who has lent you money, or to whom you owe money for work carried out etc).

A legally authorised bailiff may remove goods from your property and sell them to raise money to clear the debt. A visit from a bailiff can be very stressful and you should seek advice from your local Citizens Advice Bureau or an advice agency if you receive notification of a visit from a bailiff.

Where possible, you should try to arrange for a friend to be with you as a witness, if you know a bailiff is going to call, and take notes of the conversation and the powers the bailiff claims to have.

There are different types of bailiff and they are granted different powers to collect debts, for example:

County Court Bailiff:

Directly employed by the County Court

Certificated Bailiff:

Empowered by a certificate granted by the court after providing references of good character

Private Bailiff:

Self employed, employed by a local authority or a private company

Bailiffs authorised by the magistrates’ court are usually used to collect council tax arrears or county court judgements, but could also be used to collect other debts such as unpaid fines, rent arrears, income tax arrears or to repossess goods purchased through a hire purchase agreement.

Different types of bailiff have differing powers to collect debts. However there are certain rules which apply to all of them, and unless we state otherwise here, the information herein applies to all bailiffs.

The bailiff has certain powers for use when collecting or seizing goods but must always have a warrant before being allowed to enter your property to remove your possessions.

Can anyone be a bailiff

Yes, as long as they have legal authority to carry out their actions! Most creditors tend to use certificated bailiffs to collect their debts, as these have been ‘vetted’ by the courts before being granted a certificate. On this basis, such individuals or firms have provided references, and the staff they employ are considered to be ‘fit and proper’ persons for the role.

In order to collect rent arrears and road traffic penalties, bailiffs must certificated.

What legal authority must a Bailiff have before calling on me?

The Bailiff must be legally authorised to collect the debt on behalf of the creditor. This authority is normally known as a ‘warrant’, or ‘warrant of execution’ the money being recovered relates to an outstanding County Court Judgement.

Where Bailiffs have been appointed by the Magistrates Courts in respect of unpaid council tax, outstanding fines, or unpaid maintenance etc, their legal authority is termed a ‘distress warrant’ ‘liability order’ by the relevant Magistrates’ Court.

With regard to debt arrears, it is standard practice for creditors to appoint agents to call at your home in order to negotiate a repayment arrangement. These individuals will usually be called ‘debt collectors’, ‘debt counsellors’or ‘advisors’. they describe themselves, they do not have the legal power to enter your home or seize goods.

How do I know that it is a Bailiff at my house?

Bailiffs must provide identification and/or their authorisation if so requested. Where they are collecting rent arrears, ensure you ask them to produce their certificate from the county court.

Bailiffs collecting unpaid council tax must show their written authorisation from the relevant council.

Am I breaking the law if I refuse to let the bailiff into my house?

No, you cannot be arrested for refusing to allow the Bailiff into your house, even if the Bailiff attends your house accompanied by the police; police presence is merely to ensure that there is no breach of the peace, and not to assist the Bailiff.

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Do I have to let the bailiffs into my home?

No – and be very careful about doing so.

Most bailiffs cannot force entry to your property, and in many cases you don’t have to let them in. The only exception to this is that a bailiff acting on behalf of HM Revenue & Customs can get a warrant to force entry, though this is rare.

They can gain entry to your property if they can do so without breaking in, such as through an open door or window – a ‘right of peaceful entry’, which may include climbing over fences and gates (without breaking them down).

Caution: Once a bailiff has entered your property he can make a list of your possessions which will be seized for auction to repay the debt, so long as such possessions belong to the person owing the debt, and named on the warrant. So, make sure all your doors and windows are securely closed.

Once in the premises, the Bailiff has the right to enter all rooms in the house, and can break open any locked door or drawer in order to assist his/her investigations. Once the Bailiff has gained entry by ‘peaceful’ means, he/she has the right to call again and even enter without your permission, even if this means breaking in and removing identified goods.

Should any attempt be made to remove a Bailiff from your property once they have gained peaceful entry, this would be classed as assault, with the consequent risk of conviction.

Once the Bailiff has ‘seized’ possessions, these can be removed immediately into storage or a representative of the Bailiff can remain at the premises to guard the items pending future collection. In any event, the Bailiff will make clear his/her intention to seize the items, either verbally, by attaching an identifying marker to the item, or simply by touching the relevant items. It is important that you take a note of such items so identified. This process is referred to as ‘levying distress or ‘distraining on goods’.

The most likely outcome of a Bailiff’s peaceful entry onto premises is that you could be required to sign a ‘walking possession agreement which means that the Bailiff legally owns the goods identified and marked, and he can return at a later date, entering without permission, to remove goods to the value of the debt. However, it is likely that, having signed the agreement, the items can remain in your home and you can continue to use them for as long as you keep to your side of the agreement – i.e. you stick to whatever agreement struck with the Bailiff at his/her visit.

You must never sign a walking possession order pushed through your letterbox which probably lists goods viewed though a window.

Bailiffs are well aware of the limitations of their powers, and are well trained in the use of a variety of tactics in order to gain entry peacefully. Such tactics may include:

  • They may attempt to walk in as soon as the door is opened.
  • They may ask if they can use your telephone to check if an arrangement is satisfactory with ‘Head Office’.
  • They may simply suggest that you may prefer to discuss matters confidentially inside your home.

Remember: You do not have to accede to any of these methods.

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Could a bailiff force entry to my property?

It is rare that a bailiff will force entry to your home to seize your possessions, but will do so if denied entry to a property which he has previously entered, or has a warrant from a magistrates court to collect unpaid taxes or fines.

Are there any goods that a Bailiff is not allowed to seize?

With the exception of Bailiffs acting on behalf of the Magistrates’ Court, Bailiffs are not allowed to seize clothes, bedding, and furniture, household goods essential for living, or tools and equipment necessary for work.

Goods which are owned by another person cannot be seized, but goods the debtor owns jointly with someone else could be seized.

A Bailiff cannot take goods which belong to a child.

Bailiffs acting on behalf of the Magistrates’ Courts are not allowed to seize;

  • Clothing, beds or bedding
  • Tools of a trade
  • Basic domestic needs of the family – items such as fridge, cooker, freezer.

What should I do if a bailiff threatens me?

A bailiff should behave in a professional manner and is not allowed to threaten, discriminate against you on grounds of gender, age, ethnicity, sexuality, religion, race, or use offensive language. If you are concerned about the conduct of a bailiff you should complain to the creditor or the court which instructed him.

Do Bailiffs visit without prior notice?

You should receive a minimum of 7 days notice from county court Bailiffs to give you the chance to pay. Where a visit is planned to collect council tax, the local authority must send a letter giving 14 days’ notice of the Bailiff visit.

Is there a cost of the visits?

Bailiffs are entitled to charge fees for their work. Such fees vary according to the reason for the visit and can be quite complex, but here are a few of the most common (source: www.bailiffadviceonline.co.uk as at 7/2010):

Council Tax

1st visit fee £24.50, with a 2nd visit charged at £18. There may also be a Levy Fee where the Bailiff levies on goods, and a Walking Possession agreement is signed. As an example of overall costs, take an outstanding Council Tax bill of £600, the total amount you should pay for the Bailiff is £55.00

Road Traffic debts

For preparing and sending a letter to advise that a warrant is with the Bailiff, and requesting the total sum due: £11.20

In addition, for levying distress for debts not exceeding £100: £28, though this increase to 28% on the first £200 due and 5.5% on any additional sums over £200. For taking possession: £5.60 each day.

Child Support Agency

  • Letter fee: £10
  • Attendance fees: Approx. £95
  • Walking Possession: 10p per day

In all of the above situations, there are additional ‘reasonable’ costs and fees incurred where, for example there is removal and storage required for seized goods, or for auctioneer’s costs, and you should clarify such costs at the time.

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Does a debt collector have the same powers as a bailiff?

No, a debt collector is not a bailiff and is not authorised by the courts. A debt collector is not allowed to enter your home or seize your property.

Professional Standards of Bailiffs

There are now national standards for enforcement agents, under which Bailiffs are expected to:

  • Carry out their duties in a professional, calm and dignified manner.
  • Dress themselves appropriately, and act with discretion and fairness.
  • Properly represent their powers.
  • Produce identification and authorisation upon request.
  • Not to discriminate on grounds of gender, sexual orientation, age, ethnicity, race or religion.
  • Communicate clearly and provide appropriate information on, for example fees and charges.
  • Provide procedures for identifying and dealing fairly with vulnerable debtors (such as the elderly or disabled, pregnant women, unemployed people, recently bereaved or those with language difficulties).

How do I complain about a Bailiff?

If you would like to make a complaint about a certified bailiff, use this link to download an official Form 4

If you wish to complain about the conduct or fitness of a Certificated Bailiff, under The Distress for Rent Act 1988, your complaint must be made to the court that originally issued the bailiffs certificate. This is a relatively simple process and the complaint is made on a Court document entitled: Form 4….Complaint against a Certificated Bailiff. This form can be completed online or you may print a copy. There is no fee to pay.

Once the court receives your completed Form 4, they will send a report to the bailiff and any other interested party: normally the company that employs the bailiff. The Court will require that the bailiff delivers back to the court a written response within 14 days (or longer, if the court agrees).

The Judge will read the written response from the bailiff and, if he is satisfied as to the bailiff’s fitness to hold a certificate, the court will issue a notice to the bailiff to that effect and no further action shall be taken in respect of that complaint.

If the bailiff fails to deliver the reply within the time specified, or, if upon reading the reply, the Judge is unsatisfied as to the bailiff’s fitness to hold a certificate, the court will issue a notice summoning the bailiff to appear before the Judge on a specified date and show cause why his certificate should not be cancelled. If the bailiff fails to appear at court, the Judge can proceed with the hearing.

You will be informed of the date of the hearing and you may attend and make a statement if you wish. We would certainly advise you to do this.

If you wish to attend , but cannot travel to the court where the hearing will be heard, you may apply to that court for the hearing to be transferred to a court with jurisdiction to issue bailiff certificates nearer to you.

What can the judge do

After the hearing the Judge may take the following action:

  • Order compensation to be paid to you. This means that the judge can award you a sum of money from the “Bailiff Bond”.
  • Cancel the bailiff’s certificate. This means that the bailiff will no longer be entitled to levy distress for rent, road traffic debts, council tax or non-domestic rates; or
  • Dismiss your complaint.

Any complaint must be dealt with at the court where the bailiff was granted his certificate. Your local County Court can find this information for you or alternatively there is a telephone number on the Form 4.

The grounds for complaint

  • Their behaviour has been unduly aggressive, rude or threatening.
  • They have levied irregularly. This means that the correct goods have been seized, but the procedures followed were not correct e.g. the bailiff sells your goods after you had paid the debt.
  • The bailiff has levied excessively. This means that the value of the goods seized from you is more than the amount of the debt, or that you have paid an excessive amount to the bailiff. If more money is raised at auction than the debt, (this includes the fees, the cost or removing your goods and the cost of selling them), the balance should be returned to you. A levy is not excessive if there are no other goods that can be seized.
  • They have levied illegally. This means that they have levied on goods which cannot be seized; (i.e. goods that are not yours).

Before completing the form

If possible, you will need to ensure that you have first written to the bailiff company to request a complete breakdown of the fees and charges. By law, they must comply with this. Their response to your request is very important in order to establish whether they have overcharged you.

What to include

It would be most helpful to the District judge if you were to include a copy of the reply to your Subject Access Request. If the company have not complied, provide any copy letters etc. Enclose a copy of any receipts that the bailiff may have left you. If the bailiff seized goods that are not yours, again provide details.

If your complaint concerns an allegation about rudeness or bullying or the manner in which he conducted his visit, provide a statement, if possible from anyone who may have witnessed this. Remember to keep copies.

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Statutory Regulations

The following are the most common Statutory Regulations.

For Parking Charge Notices

The Enforcement of Road Traffic Debts. (Certificated Bailiffs) (Amendment) Regulations 2003. (Si 2072 of 1993, Si 1351 of 1998 and 1857 of 2003

For Council Tax

The Council Tax Administration & Enforcement (Amendment) 1993. Si 773 amended by Si 295 0f 1998, Si 768 of 2003 and Si 3395 of 2006

For Business Rates

The Non-Domestic Rating (Collection and Enforcement) (Amendments) (England) Regulations 2003. As amended by Si 2210 of 2003 Schedule 3 Charges Connected with Distress (as Amended) Si 3395 of 2006.

Contact details for the relevant industry bodies

Association of Civil Enforcement Agencies (ACEA)

ACEA
513 Bradford Road
Batley
West Yorkshire
WF17 8LL
Website: www.acea.org.uk

The Enforcement Services Association (ESA)

The Executive Director
Enforcement Services Association
Park House
10 Park Street
Bristol
BS1 5HX
Tel: 0870 3007255
Website: www.ensas.org.uk