The day the bailiffs came to call…
“A month ago there was a loud knock on my door. When I opened it, I was faced by two blokes who said they were bailiffs from the council. They said I owed £520 council tax from last year and they wanted “to come in and talk about it”.
I’d seen something on the telly about not letting bailiffs in, plus the house was a mess, so I said I would rather talk about it on the doorstep. They didn’t like this. The tall one said: “You are advised to let us in. It’s only fair to tell you that we can get the police to help us break in if you won’t co-operate”.
I panicked. I didn’t want to break the law and the thought of people breaking in and the police coming around was terrible. I told them I was very sorry about the arrears. I explained that my husband had left two weeks before, and he had always taken care of the council tax. I wondered if I should try to borrow the money, and who I could go to for a quick loan.
Then my sister arrived. She could see I was starting to cry, and told the bailiffs to clear off. They left, but they said that because I was making them come back, they would add even more to my debt.
My sister told me to go to my local advice agency the next day. I had to wait a while to be seen, but it was worth it. They wrote letters to the council and the bailiffs. After a few letters and phone calls, the council agreed to take small amounts from my Employment and Support Allowance to pay off the debt. I don’t have to hide behind the door anymore.”
Lessons from Christine’s story
There are five points from Christine’s experience that it is useful to remember, in case you have bailiffs at your door.
- Don't let bailiffs in unless you don’t mind if they take your belongings to pay the debt. See ‘If bailiffs knock on your door’ for more details.
- The police don’t chase debts. Debts aren’t usually a criminal matter, which is what the police deal with. Sometimes bailiffs suggest that the police are on hand to help them break into your home to take your belongings; they aren’t. The police should only attend to prevent violence.
- It is never a good idea to get into more debt to pay an old bill. Christine would probably have had to resort to a ‘back street lender’, or other company which usually charge huge rates of interest. It is far better to get proper money advice and support – which you can get for free at your local advice agency or from one of the national agencies listed in the section More help and advice.
- If you have debts from household bills (such as phone, gas or electricity bills), which you share with someone else, you should tell the company, even if they no longer live with you. Christine’s husband was equally responsible for the council tax arrears.
- Don’t feel you have to sort everything out yourself! An advice agency can often get a better result for you because they know the law, and will not be intimidated by false threats.