Dealing with bailiffs
When you are faced with the threat of bailiffs it can be a worrying time, but bailiffs have to abide by laws that are now stricter than ever. So what do you do when they come knocking on your door?
We’ve put together some vital information that could help you if the eventuality ever arises so that you can protect your home and your property.
Handling a visit from bailiffs – FAQs
What debts will result in a visit from a bailiff?
A bailiff is a person who has been appointed to seize your goods so that they can be sold to raise funds in settlement of an outstanding debt.
If you have council tax arrears, rent arrears, unpaid fines, income tax arrears, child support arrears, parking fine arrears or received a County Court Judgement (CCJ), then you could receive a visit from a bailiff.
The 2014 legal update, however, has stopped landlords from employing bailiffs to take property over residential rent debts unless there has been a court hearing first.
What legal documentation should a bailiff have?
In most circumstances a bailiff will need a court order before they can seize goods from your property. This will however depend on the type of debt as the rules can vary accordingly – HM Revenue and Customs, for example, can send bailiffs without a court order in respect of overdue taxes.
When do bailiffs have right of entry?
In the majority of cases bailiffs are not allowed to enter your property without your permission unless they do so by ‘peaceful entry’. This means that they can enter through an unlocked door or open window. An exception to this rule relates to bailiffs working for the Magistrates’ Court, who can use reasonable force to gain entry if you have unpaid criminal fines.
As a result of the 2014 changes, bailiffs are not allowed to enter homes at night and must not go into properties where there are only children present. They are also banned from having any physical contact with debtors. New regulations were also brought in to combat aggressive or intimidating behaviour from bailiffs, following a debt collection consultation by the Ministry of Justice the year before. These formed part of a larger group of reforms affecting the Tribunals, Courts & Enforcement Act 2007.
Bailiffs must now inform the court what the means of entry to a property is likely to be, how much force will be required and what goods are involved. This must happen before a warrant is granted, and they must also give details about how the premises will be secured when they leave.
What property can or cannot be taken by bailiffs?
Bailiffs are now not allowed to take possessions without first giving seven days’ notice, unless a court gives specific permission for this to happen. Even then, they are not usually allowed to remove basic furniture such as bedding, clothing and household goods.
The 2014 update strictly forbids the removal of household items deemed as ‘essential’, such as washing machines. ‘Non-essential’ items or luxury items such as televisions, DVD players and home entertainment systems can be taken. Any goods that are recovered are sold at auction to raise funds to cover the debt and the bailiff’s fees, but there are now rules restricting when bailiffs can sell these items.
The funds realised at auction will be substantially lower than the value of the goods when new. This means that the bailiffs will remove items that appear to be worth a lot more than the total sum of the debt.
Bailiffs cannot usually remove goods that belong to another person except in the case of a joint debt, but there are exceptions to this rule. For example, if the debt relates to overdue rent, the bailiffs can, in most cases, remove any goods that are in the property.
What is a Walking Possession Order?
If the bailiffs gain access to your property, they might ask you to sign a Walking Possession Order. This consists of a list of goods that will be seized unless you repay the debt within a specific time period. You will not be allowed to remove those goods from the premises until the debt is repaid, and you will be charged an additional amount for each day that the debt remains outstanding.
It is important to emphasise that bailiffs charge for their services, and these charges will be added onto your debt each time they visit your property. It used to be the case that bailiffs were free to determine their own charges, but the 2014 changes saw the introduction of set fee scales.
The 2014 update means that bailiffs must now undergo essential training and certification. This includes training individuals to recognize vulnerable people so that they get the assistance that they need.
When to seek advice?
The rules regarding bailiffs vary depending on the type of debt so it is important to seek advice from your local Citizens Advice Bureau.