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Bailiffs: know your rights
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 them 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 enforcement agents is to know your rights, and this is where we can help.
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 them 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.
What powers do enforcement agents have?
An enforcement agent is authorised to collect a debt on behalf of a creditor and there are several different types, 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, enforcement agents 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 them 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 can you do if a bailiff only wants full payment?
They should accept reasonable payment offers from you. Complain to their head office and make arrangements to pay what you can afford. If you’re one of your clients, show them your budget, which explains how much you have left over each month, after essential spending, to deal with your debts.
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 still worried 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.