If you can count the bailiffs amongst your recent visitors, then you’re not alone. When you owe money, debt collectors and bailiffs might visit to encourage or collect a payment, or to start assessing the value of your possessions that could be seized.
The bailiffs have a process to abide to when they contact you, so you shouldn’t be afraid. There are ways to keep the bailiffs at bay, and things you can do once you start receiving visits. The key thing is not to panic.

What is a bailiff?

A creditor authorises a bailiff to work on their behalf. If you owe money, a bailiff might visit in order to try and claim it.

The type of bailiff that visits will depend on who you owe money to.

  • Private bailiffs work on behalf of companies and self-employed people.
  • County Court bailiffs work on behalf of the County Court. They enforce County Court Judgments (CCJs). Unsecured debts including store cards, credit cards and loans typically come under the remit of County Court bailiffs, who must carry a ‘warrant’ and be legally authorised. Rent and mortgage debts may also come under this category.
  • Certificated bailiffs work on behalf of the Magistrates’ Court and local councils. These are private companies that collect fines, unpaid council tax and unpaid maintenance. A certified bailiff needs to carry a ‘distress warrant’ or ‘liability order’.

Alternatively, you might receive a visit from a debt collector. Debt collectors can’t enter your home or take your belongings, but can negotiate payments and remind you of what you owe.

How can you avoid a County Court bailiff visit?

If a warrant of execution has been issued, bailiffs may be sent to collect CCJ debt.

To avoid this, you can fill in an N245 form. Using this form, you can offer to repay the debt at a rate that is comfortable for you. You’ll be required to provide details of your income, expenses and other debts. As long as your offer is accepted and you keep up to date with payments, the warrant will be suspended.

The N245 form can be found here

What should you do if a bailiff visits?

Bailiffs can’t visit when it’s dark. If a bailiff visits, you’ve the right to ask for ID. You should do this immediately, for your safety and security. If they can’t produce the relevant identification then you don’t have to deal with them further. You don’t have to let a bailiff into your house.

County Court bailiffs should have a certificate from the County Court, and show this when you request it. Bailiffs that are collecting council tax debts must show the local authority’s written authorisation.

Will you be warned about a visit from a bailiff?

Local authorities need to give you a 14 day written warning if they’re sending a bailiff for council tax. County Court and other bailiffs need to give you a 7 day warning, with time to pay. If you’re expecting a bailiff visit, you should make sure that all doors and windows are locked at all times.

Can the bailiffs force their way into your home?

Most bailiffs don’t have a right to force their way into your home. Very rarely, a bailiff working on behalf of the Inland Revenue is given a warrant that covers forced entry.

A bailiff, in most cases, must enter your home ‘peacefully’. This means that you need to invite them in, or they can access your home by climbing over things and entering open doors and windows. Once they’ve gained access peacefully in the first instance, they can return and break in.

The bailiff can’t push past you at your front door, or cause damage to your property. They can use careful wording to access your property, such as asking if they can continue the discussion inside (or asking to use your phone). Again, you have a right to say no.

Can you negotiate with bailiffs?

You could negotiate and offer to pay for all or some of your debt on the spot. The bailiff may accept your offer, if their contract allows. Don’t agree to pay anything that you can’t afford and always get a receipt.

A bailiff might agree a payment plan, but may add extra money to cover return visits. You have a right to dispute these extra charges.

What happens if a bailiff does gain access? What can they take?

Bailiffs can’t take essential items such as clothing and bedding, fridges, cookers, furniture and items that you use to earn money, such as tools or a computer. They can take non-essential items, along with anything in unsecured outbuildings or things that are kept externally, such as your vehicle.

Bailiffs can break open locked doors and cupboards once inside your house. They should make it clear verbally, by touch or by physically marking, which items they’re going to seize. A public auction sell your possessions, with proceeds used to repay your debt.

Can you complain about a bailiff?

If you’re dealing with bailiffs then you can seek help. You can also complain directly to the person that’s given the bailiff their orders, or to a trade association such as the Certificated Bailiffs Association (CBA) or Association of Civil Enforcement Agencies (ACEA).

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Debt Free Direct is a trading name of Clear Start Partnerships Limited and is authorised and regulated to issue debt advice by the Financial Conduct Authority.

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