Bailiffs are individuals with special legal powers that seek to reclaim debts by arriving at a debtor’s home or place of business and asking for payment. Should the debtor fail to make the necessary payments, bailiffs can repossess belongings and sell them at auction. Bailiffs can either be court officials or work for a private bailiff firm and are often referred to as ‘enforcement agents’. However, they are not employees of the creditor but act as their agent. Bailiffs can be appointed following an unpaid CCJ, but they can also enforce many other types of debt, such as parking penalties, council tax, child maintenance, criminal fines or tax arrears owed to HMRC.
Are bailiffs and debt collectors the same?
While the two terms are often used interchangeably, bailiffs and debt collectors are two separate entities and differ in the legal powers they possess. Bailiffs are legally appointed and have special legal powers as they represent the courts, whereas debt collection agencies will either have been passed the debt from the original creditor, or will have purchased it from him.
It is illegal for debt collectors to imply that they are bailiffs, as they have no more legal power of recovery than the original creditor and cannot seize assets like a bailiff can. A debt collector can only seek to recover the amount owed by contacting a debtor and requesting payment and must give notice if they intend to visit the debtors home or place of business.
Anyone who claims to be a bailiff and isn’t one is committing fraud.
What powers do bailiffs have?
As representatives of the court, bailiffs have special legal powers when it comes to debt recovery and in certain circumstances can enter a debtor’s home and seize assets to sell at auction. They are not allowed to use force without a court warrant, so can only enter through an unlocked gate or door or if someone in the house over 16 years old permits them entry. Bailiffs do have the power to obtain a warrant so they can forcefully enter a premise, allowing them to break doors to gain entry.
The first visit of a bailiff will generally see them entering a debtor’s home and begin compiling a list of assets to place under their control. They can then take these items with them, or leave them with the debtor to collect at a later date, if the money owed is not repaid. Bailiffs can take items such as jewellery, vehicles or electronics. They cannot take items that are needed for living purposes or work purposes, such as bedding, furniture or tools of the debtor’s trade.
Bailiffs are allowed to force their way into your home if it’s the last resort and they are collecting criminal unpaid fines, income tax or VAT. They must also have a magistrates court order.
I have been threatened with bailiff enforcement, what can I do?
If you have received letters threatening bailiff action or if you have already received your ‘notice of enforcement’, then time is of the essence and action needs to be taken quickly. There are several recovery options available to both businesses and individuals.
Once a notice of enforcement has been issued you will have seven days with which to initiate preventative measures. Failure to do so means that bailiffs may then visit you at your home or business at any point in the following 12 months.
Bailiffs must usually give you at least 7 days’ notice of their first visit.
Bailiff action represents a serious act from a creditor to recoup the money that he is owed. Visits from bailiffs will come after the creditors have exhausted CCJs and reminder notices. Bailiff power is limited in terms of their entry into a debtor’s premises and what they can take. They have strict guidelines which they must adhere to.
How we can help
If you have received a CCJ, been threatened with bailiff action, or are anticipating action from a creditor, the best thing you can do is act as quickly as possible. The sooner you make contact with creditors, the better chance there is of coming to the best conclusion for all parties. We can help discuss the various options available to you, whether it be through a formal or informal payment plan. All the initial advice we offer is free, including our face-to-face consultation which is operated nationwide.