Bailiffs: know your rights

posted by in Bailiffs, Collection Process, Debt

Not all bailiffs are burly!

Not all bailiffs are burly!

The threat of bailiffs (now officially called enforcement agents) at the door can be extremely worrying if you don’t know what powers they have or how to deal with them. Before I started working here I, like most others, thought of bailiffs as a burly men banging the door down. That’s enough to scare anyone, but it’s often far from the truth.

The best way to deal with bailiffs is to know your rights, and this is where we can help.

We’ve put together an infographic (see below) which lists the dos and don’ts when dealing with bailiffs. It’s a handy checklist to refer to for quick advice, but as you may know, bailiff debt law is a complicated topic and it’s important that you get some free and impartial advice if there’s a threat of bailiffs coming to your home.

This article was first written in 2012, there have been updates to bailiffs law since then. For the most up to date information please visit our website.

Powers of bailiffs

A bailiff is authorised to collect a debt on behalf of a creditor and there are several different types of bailiffs, all of whom have different powers;

  • County court bailiffs
  • Certificated bailiffs
  • Private bailiffs

They can be used to collect different types of debts, not limited to county court judgments (CCJs), council tax, magistrates court fines, maintenance to the Child Support Agency (CSA) and outstanding rent. Get in touch with us if you want to know more about the different types of bailiffs and their powers.

What’s a warrant of execution?

A bailiff must be legally authorised to collect the debt and a warrant of execution is a document which allows a county court bailiff to take and sell goods to pay a judgment, as well as any court costs and fees. It can only be issued once a payment has been missed on a county court judgment (CCJ).

How to suspend a warrant

If a creditor has applied for a warrant of execution you’ll receive a notice from the courts informing you that a warrant has been issued and giving a date when they will visit your house. This notice will normally give you at least seven days’ notice.

You can make a combined application to the courts to have the warrant of execution suspended and change the payment to an affordable amount, using an N245 form.

If you don’t apply for the notice to be suspended, bailiffs will be able to attend your home on the date stated and remove goods to sell on. You can prevent this by paying the amount in full.

Entry into your property

Most bailiffs don’t have the right to force their way into your home. Although it’s rare, exceptions to this rule include bailiffs dealing with:

  • eviction orders
  • persistently unpaid court fines and
  • unpaid taxes

Most other bailiffs have a right of peaceful entry only. This means that they can’t use force to enter a home, for example by breaking a window or a door. However, they can enter through an open door and can climb over fences and gates.

You don’t have to let a bailiff into your house. They can’t force their way past you and if all doors are securely closed they can’t gain peaceful entry to a house unless they’re allowed in.

Once a bailiff has gained peaceful entry into a property and levied they can come back at any time to remove the goods.

Levying of goods

The power to levy is the power of bailiffs to seize, secure, and if necessary sell goods in order to clear a debt. It’s likely that the bailiff will walk around your house and make a list of any valuable items that they could sell.

There are certain things that bailiffs can’t take such as ‘tools of the trade’ needed for work, and certain household items such as beds etc. They can’t take goods that are on hire purchase or items that don’t belong to you (although it would be up to you to prove that they belong to someone else).

Once the bailiff has levied goods they have a number of options, one of which is that the bailiff will ask you to sign a ‘walking possession agreement’.

What’s a walking possession agreement?

A walking possession agreement means that you’ve agreed that any levied goods now legally belong to the bailiff and can be removed at any time if the debt isn’t paid. If you sign the agreement, they’ll usually leave the goods with you provided that you maintain any arrangement you’ve made to pay the debt.

A walking possession order is likely to be written but would be equally valid if it was a verbal arrangement.

Ultimately, it’s important to remember that bailiffs are employed to put pressure on you to clear the debt. The golden rule to remember is that in most cases they’d much rather come to an agreement with you to pay the debt rather than incur costs and go to the inconvenience of selling goods.

And remember that debt collectors aren’t bailiffs and they have no enforcement power whatsoever so it’s important to know the difference.

If you’re worried about bailiffs it’s best to get some free and impartial debt advice as soon as possible. We’ve blogged before about the difference between avoiding bailiffs and dealing with them now and we’re sure that you’ll agree that seeking advice sooner rather than later is always best.

You can read more about bailiffs on our website.

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Pavan Gata-Aura is a qualified debt advisor with 6 years of experience. She enjoys spending time with her two children, fundraising for charities, has spent time volunteering in Africa and takes part in organised races.

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Tags Bailiffs Collection Process Debt
  • Louise Watts

    Hi I wonder if you can give me some advice?

    Yesterday I had a Marston Holding Bailiff come to my address with a court fine going back to 2009 for no road tax on a vehicle amounting to £791.
    This car was my ex partners but the log book was in my name.

    I cant afford to pay in full but want to make an arrangement, which the bailiff refused. I didnt let him in the house and spoke to him by his car.

    I am worried as I have a car but on finance. What are the chances of him getting a lock smith or trying to take my car?

    I have until tomorrow to contact him.

    I am a single parent on a low income.

    Please advise me as I am really worried.

    Kind regards
    Louise

    • moneyaware

      Hi Louise,

      Thanks for your message.

      I’m very sorry to hear about this situation, dealing with bailiffs can be very worrying.

      It might be worth visiting the Marston website to see if there’s
      any information about what you can do in this situation.

      You could contact them over the phone to say you’ve tried to
      arrange a payment plan but the bailiff refused – and see if they’re able to help you set one up.

      It might help to have evidence of how much you have spare to pay
      towards the debt, we have an income and expenditure form that can help you do this:

      https://www.stepchange.org/debt-info/income-and-expenditure-financial-statement.aspx

      If you’re trying to make an arrangement to repay the debt, it’s unlikely the bailiff will force entry into your home.

      You also mentioned that you have a car on finance, if you can prove that the car is on finance, and you haven’t made the final payment towards it, the bailiff shouldn’t take it.

      We’ve also got a section on our website about bailiffs, it
      explains what they can and can’t do, and the process a creditor (the person you owe money to) must follow before a bailiff can be
      used. You can find it here:

      https://www.stepchange.org/debt-info/debt-collection/bailiff-help-and-advice.aspx

      You may also find it useful to call our Helpline for advice, you
      can find out how to talk to one of our debt advisors here:

      https://www.stepchange.org/Contactus.aspx

      I hope this helps,

      Jen

    • Tom Heathfield

      Do not deal with Marstons. Speak to the DVLA as they are the organisation to whom you allegedly owe the money and do not be fobbed off by them telling you you need to sort it out with the bailiffs. Insist that the DVLA and you sort it out between yourselves.

      You have no legal obligation to deal with Marstons.

  • Kayleigh Roughley

    Hi I’m currently undergoing proceedings to end bailiff action with council tax advisors and they are currently dealing with the complaint against me for my council tax arrears. The bailiff had already visited the address before I got onto the company. Mainly because I’d never seen the letters my partner had been hiding from me. I’ve not spoken to the bailiff or answered the door under instruction from debt advisors. However I was wondering whether the bailiff can visit your address more than once in the same day if he left the premises of his own accord and left a letter? Thanks in advance.

  • Dorian

    Hi I just had a bailiff at my door saying I owe 349 for a road traffic ticket in a car I had on hire purchase but give bk January 20015 and this ticket is for April 2015 in England and I live in wales I have had no letters to say they r coming to the house I have been in contact with the dvla am they have the new drivers details off the car I have proof to say that we didnt own the car wen this happened but they still demand tha I pay in full in 24hours wat can I do plz help I dont see y I should pay it if it weren’t me

  • Gary Fielding

    Hi I missed a last payment ov 57 pound on a fine for a bus lane ticket I have had a letter to my friends house where I stay couple ov days saying they will remove goods as they now want 292 pound is there anything I can do plz

    • moneyaware

      Hi Gary,

      If you’re dealing with a bailiff for this debt (often called enforcement agents) then it’s possible they could try and remove goods from the property they have on their records for you if you fall behind on payments.

      There’s some information on our main website about bailiffs and what they can take: https://www.stepchange.org/debt-info/bailiffs/what-can-bailiffs-take.aspx. Hopefully it won’t come to that, but it’s better to be prepared.

      You may be able to get the agreement put back in place if you talk to them, though this isn’t guaranteed.

      I’d recommend you get in touch with us for debt advice as soon as possible. Here’s some details about how our advice works:
      https://www.stepchange.org/Howwecanhelpyou/Debtadvice.aspx

      Thanks

      James

      • Gary Fielding

        It’s just the address they have is a friends house where I stay couple of times a week it’s not my fixed address as I don’t have one can they take my friends items ?

      • moneyaware

        Hi Gary,

        A bailiff should only take items that are owned by you or owned jointly by you and someone else. The shouldn’t take things that aren’t yours.

        I’d recommend getting in touch with the bailiff and trying to get an arrangement in place before they visit. You can contact us beforehand if you’d like some advice on how to deal with them: https://www.stepchange.org/Contactus.aspx.

        Kind regards

        James