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Bailiffs pushing people into debt and stress: What are your rights?

Rule breaking bailiffs are causing people increased stress, anxiety and financial difficulty, according to new research.

As reported by Huffington Post, the new report from Citizens Advice and StepChange found that a third (850,000) of the 2.2 million people contacted by a debt collector in the last two years has been forced to deal with them bending the rules.

According to the charities, that’s one person every minute who has witnessed a bailiff pushing their legal limits – including forcing entry into a home, removing goods needed for work and refusing to accept a reasonable payment plan.

Another two in five said they have experienced aggression or intimidation tactics from bailiffs.

Of those who had a negative experience with a bailiff, the charity found that 70% reported increased stress and anxiety and half experienced a knock-on effect on their finances, including incurring further debt due to enforcement fees.

The charities are now demanding a new independent bailiff regulator help protect those suffering at the hands of debt collectors breaking the law.

It can often be a scary situation if bailiffs come knocking at your door and our advisors are often asked for help and advice about how to deal with bailiffs.

It’s important to know your rights and to have a strategy in place if you are at risk of being visited.

Here’s everything you need to know about bailiffs and what powers they legally have.

What is a bailiff?

Bailiffs are debt enforcement agents in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, who work to recover debts on behalf of creditors.

If you live in Scotland, Sheriff Officers are responsible for recovering debts.

Bailiffs recover debt either by taking payment directly from the debtor, or by seizing possessions to sell.

Bailiffs can work for private companies, the local council, or be self-employed.

Bailiffs are most often called upon to recover ‘public’ debt. This can include unpaid council tax, income tax, unpaid VAT and court fines.

Bailiffs can also be sent to recover debts associated with personal loans or credit cards, although this is much rarer.

Before a creditor can send a bailiff, they must notify you in writing that they intend on sending an enforcement officer.

If you receive a Notice of Enforcement, this is your warning that a Bailiff will be visiting your home or premises. You must have more than a week’s notice prior to the visit.

If you are sent a bailiffs notice, you should never ignore it. Bailiffs charge fees which will accrue as soon as they start acting on a creditor’s behalf and that will only add to your outstanding debt.

When can bailiffs come to your house?

A Bailiff can visit your home at any time on any day, but they can only carry out their enforcement duties between the hours of 6am and 9pm.

Only in certain circumstances can they carry out enforcement outside of these hours:

  • If they have a court order saying they are entitled to operate outside the hours of 6am to 9pm
  • If your belongings of value are at a premises that trades outside the hours of 6am to 9pm, at a business for example
  • If a Bailiff is in the process of seizing your belongings within the hours of 6am – 9pm but they have not finished before the allocated time, they may stay and complete the seizures.

The National Standards for Enforcement Agents recommends that enforcement should not be undertaken on Sundays, on Good Friday or on Christmas Day unless the court specifically orders otherwise or in situations where legislation permits it.

Can a bailiff enter my home?

A bailiff can only enter your home if you allow them to – they cannot force entry.

On a bailiff’s first visit, they may only enter your property by ‘peaceable means’. This means either being granted entry by you, or entering through an unlocked door. In this situation, you can deny a bailiff entry.

Bailiffs cannot enter your property by any means between the hours of 9pm and 6am, or on public holidays. Bailiffs cannot enter your property if only children under the age of 16 are at home.

Bailiffs are not legally allowed to break down doors in order to gain entry.

We have more information on what to do if bailiffs come to your home here in our blog.

What are bailiffs allowed to take?

If a bailiff enters your home, they will either take certain items in order to settle your debts, or list them as part of a Controlled Goods Agreement.

This is an agreement made between you and the bailiff that you will keep up with a repayment plan.

If you do not stick to the plan’s terms, the bailiff can return to seize the goods previously listed.

Bailiffs can only seize non-essential possessions, such as:

  • Televisions
  • Games Consoles
  • Jewellery
  • Non-essential furniture
  • Vehicles (in certain circumstances)

Bailiffs cannot seize:

  • Clothes
  • Beds and Bedding
  • Tables/Chairs
  • Cooker/Microwave
  • Fridge
  • Washing Machine
  • Phone (either mobile or landline)

If a bailiff seizes goods that do not belong to you or are subject to a Hire Purchase Agreement, seek advice urgently. You need to provide proof that you do not own the item.  Bailiffs cannot sell 3rd party items and must return them.

What fees do bailiffs incur?

If you are visited by a bailiff, the fees associated with the visit will be added to the current total of your debt with the creditor who employed them.

  • £75 will be added once the bailiff has written to give notice of their visit.
  • £235 will be added following the bailiff’s first visit. If you owe more than £1,500, you will also pay 7.5% of the debt’s value above this.
  • £110 will be added if the bailiff returns to remove goods. If you owe more than £1,500, you will also pay 7.5% of the debt’s value above this.

Since these fees are added to your total debt, they can be included in whatever plan you choose to settle your debts.

In a formal solution, such as an IVADebt Management Plan or Trust Deed, a proportion of your debts are written off, and any interest or fees on your debts frozen, so these bailiff charges should have little bearing on the amount you end up paying back.

Can I complain about a bailiff?

Whenever you are visited by a bailiff, the first thing you should do is ask for identification, as well as the name and contact details of the company who sent them.

  • If they claim to be a Certified Enforcement Agent, check the Certified Bailiffs Register.
  • If they claim to be a High Court Enforcement Officer, check the High Court’s Directory.
  • If they claim to be a County Court or Family Court Bailiff or a Civilian Enforcement Officer, contact the court who sent them.
  • If a bailiff cannot prove their identity, you can ask them to leave, and contact the police if they refuse to do so. Impersonating a bailiff is fraud.

If a bailiff claims to have the right to force entry, you should also ask them to show you proof of this. This will come in the form of a Warrant or Writ from a court. Always ensure the document is in date and that your details are correct.

Bailiffs should never physically threaten or intimidate you, and if they do call 999 for support.

If you would like to complain about a Bailiff you should first contact their firm in writing, detailing all aspects of your complaint.

Ask them what their complaints process is and follow the steps they give you until you are satisfied that your complaint has been dealt with accordingly. You should also copy your complaint to the creditor involved as they are the ones responsible for hiring the bailiff.

There are extra rules bailiffs should follow if you:

  • are disabled or seriously ill
  • have mental health problems
  • have children or are pregnant
  • are under 18 or over 65
  • don’t speak or read English well
  • are in a stressful situation like recent bereavement or unemployment

Government reforms were introduced in 2014 to protect people from unfair practices. You can read the reforms in full here.

For free, impartial debt advice, you can get in touch with The Debt Advisor on 0800 085 1825 to find out how we can help you manage your debt and get on the road to becoming financially stable.

The Debt Advisor Ltd is regulated by The Financial Conduct Authority No 659920 and can offer help and advice on all debt solutions. There is also free advice available through The Money Advice Service who you can call on 0800 138 7777.

Bailiffs pushing people into debt and stress: What are your rights?
Bailiffs pushing people into debt and stress: What are your rights?

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