Having a bailiff knocking on your door is not something anyone looks forward to and can be quite traumatic. However, it is much easier to deal with if you are well-read on your rights and know exactly what a bailiff can and cannot do by law.
- 1 What is a bailiff?
- 2 What does this mean?
- 3 Do they have the power to enter my home and seize goods?
- 4 How do I know the difference?
- 5 When can a bailiff turn up?
- 6 Can a bailiff force entry into my house if I’m not there (or don’t answer?)
- 7 What you should know:
- 8 What a bailiff might do to gain peaceful entry?
- 9 What happens if I refuse entry to a bailiff?
- 10 If a bailiff does gain entry, what will happen next?
- 11 What goods is a bailiff unable to take?
- 12 Can I hide goods from the bailiff?
- 13 Will I warned in advance about a bailiff’s visit?
- 14 Do I have to pay the bailiff's fees?
- 15 What should I do if a bailiff is about to visit my home?
What is a bailiff?
1.An official who has the power by law to execute writs, processes, and arrests.
2.An overseer of an estate; a steward.
You owe money to creditors (these may be credit card companies, banks, loan firms and others). A bailiff has authorisation to collect a debt on behalf of a creditor.
Debts bailiffs are allowed to collect include:
- Magistrates court fines
- Unpaid child support and council tax
- Unpaid rent
Different types of bailiffs collect different types of debts. From county court bailiffs and certificated bailiffs to private bailiffs. And many creditors use certificated bailiffs who have provided references to the county court for approval.
Bailiffs who collect such debts as rent arrears and traffic penalties must be certificated.
A bailiff must be legally authorised to collect the debt on behalf of the creditor
For an explanation of the different types of Bailiffs, see Bailiffs: Types and Fees
What does this mean?
This means that the warrant of execution/warrant/liability order/distress warrant has been legally authorised by a magistrates court.
Do they have the power to enter my home and seize goods?
Yes. Bailiffs do have that power. However, do not get Bailiffs confused with debt collectors or counsellors who are simply representatives of your creditors. They will try to renegotiate repayments with you and do not have power to enter your home and seize goods, they only have power to try to renegotiate repayment terms.
How do I know the difference?
Bailiffs must provide identification or authorisation if requested by you. This identification/authorisation will include a certificate from the county court or written authorisation from the local authority.
When can a bailiff turn up?
Rent collecting bailiffs must call between sunrise and sunset by law. Bailiffs collecting any other unpaid debts can call anytime, day or night, work day or week end. Generally though, bailiffs tend to call during regular office hours give or take a few hours.
Can a bailiff force entry into my house if I’m not there (or don’t answer?)
In general no bailiffs are not able to break into your home to seize goods. The Inland Revenue can obtain a warrant to force entry in extreme cases, however this is infrequent.
Bailiffs are able to gain peaceful entry to your house through an open door or window and are even allowed to climb over fences and gates to gain access if necessary.
What you should know:
You are not obliged to let a bailiff into your house. So if one turns up at your door, you don’t have to let them in.
Bailiffs are not allowed to force their way past you when you open the door. You can prevent a bailiff from gaining peaceful entry by keeping your doors and windows closed securely.
What a bailiff might do to gain peaceful entry?
- Try to walk into your house as soon as you open the door to them
- Ask if they can use your telephone or toilet
- Ask if you can take the discussion inside
You are not obliged to let a bailiff gain peaceful entry using any of these methods.
If they gain peaceful entry, bailiffs are allowed to:
- Break open locked doors or cupboards inside your home
- Call again and enter the house without your permission (by breaking in if necessary) if they have gained peaceful entry previously.
- Seize goods that belong to the person named on the warrant. You should show receipts to the bailiff if someone else purchased the goods being seized. And should a bailiff seize goods that are subject to a Hire Purchase agreement, you must seek urgent advice. Items bought on hire purchase do not yet belong to you, and won’t until the final payment is made, so they should not be seized unless there are circumstances that allow this.
What happens if I refuse entry to a bailiff?
You will not be arrested or face any penalties or imprisonment. Police will occasionally accompany a bailiff, but only to keep the peace. However, if a bailiff does gain peaceful entry and you try to remove them, you could be taken to court for assault.
Non payment of council tax, child support or court fines can, however, lead to imprisonment if you 'wilfully refuse' to pay (ie, you have the money but choose not to pay anyway).
If a bailiff does gain entry, what will happen next?
Once in your home a bailiff will attempt to seize goods of value that belong to the person who owes the money to the creditor they are collecting the debt for. This person will be named on the warrant.
The seized goods will then be sold at public auction to pay the owed debt.
You will be asked to sign a 'walking possession agreement' which means you are handing over possession of the seized goods to the bailiff. The goods can now be removed at any time, although the bailiff can allow you to keep the items and continue to use them as long as you honour the agreement and make the necessary agreed payments.
You must only sign a walking possession order if a bailiff has gained peaceful entry to your home and seized goods (by marking them, labelling them or touching them). Do not sign anything if a bailiff simply posts the possession order through your letterbox after making a list of possessions from looking through your window.
A walking possession order costs a daily charge which must be paid on top of the original debt owed if the items are sold at auction. However, it is important to remember that goods will generally fetch only 10% of their true value at auction which means a bailiff will try to seize goods to the value of ten times what you owe.
What goods is a bailiff unable to take?
Bailiffs cannot seize:
tools, goods, vehicles and other items of equipment necessary for use by you in your employment, business or vocation; clothing, bedding, furniture, household equipment and provisions as are necessary for satisfying the basic domestic needs of you and your family (including fridge, cookers, freezers, but may not include video recorders, second TV's, jewellery, washing machines, stereos or microwaves).
Bailiffs cannot seize goods belonging to someone else, but must be provided with proof such as receipts.
Failing this documentary proof. the third party can make a statutory declaration that certain named items belong to him and may not be seized. This costs about £5 if sworn before a commissioner for oaths/solicitor who signs and stamps it.
Then you scan it, email it, fax it, post a hard copy recorded delivery. The bailiffs should then release these items from the levy.
Can I hide goods from the bailiff?
You can, but if they’ve gained peace entry, a bailiff can revisit at any time to seize the goods whether or not you are there. If it is obvious you have hidden goods of value, they will likely return until they find such goods.
Will I warned in advance about a bailiff’s visit?
Yes, County court bailiffs must issue a warning notice giving you 7 days to pay before a bailiff will visit. While local authorities are obliged to inform you about a proposed bailiff visit to collect council tax by sending you a letter giving 14 days notice of the visit.
Do I have to pay the bailiff's fees?
It depends which type of bailiff comes to visit and whether goods are seized. Bailiffs collecting council tax can charge fixed fees (£20 for a first visit and £15 for a second where no seizure of goods is made).
If you think a bailiff’s fees seem excessive, seek further advice about getting a detailed assessment.
What should I do if a bailiff is about to visit my home?
Lock your doors and windows and don’t allow entry to the bailiff (as you don’t have to let them in). Preventing peaceful entry to your home will mean they can’t seize your goods lawfully.
If a bailiff cannot gain entry or they do gain entry but find you don’t have enough goods to pay the required debt and fees, they will return the warrant to the court or local authority.
Apply to the court to suspend the warrant if your debt is an unpaid CCJ. You can apply to vary the instalments you’ve been ordered to pay by completing form N245 (you can get this at any magistrates court). A fee of £30 will be chargeable unless you are receiving tax credits or job-seekers allowance (which you must show proof of receipt for).
For unpaid council tax you can also try to negotiate instalment payments with your local authority and encourage them to withdraw the warrant from the bailiff. Make it clear that you want to pay back what you can afford each month, despite not wanting to let the bailiff in.