Dealing with bailiffs
In this guide we explain what your rights are if the bailiff comes to call, and what to do at every stage - from the first letter to the last visit.
People run into debt for all sorts of reasons. Usually you'll find the companies you owe money to to be fairly reasonable as long as you stay in touch with them and show a willingness to repay your debts. However, you might find yourself faced with a pushy or aggressive debt collection company who won't accept your offers of repayment, or you may realise that you've been ignoring letters you shouldn't have. If things get really bad, they might try to make you to repay your debt by taking your possessions - they will send a bailiff to do this.
Normally, you don't want the bailiff to take your things to sell at auction, as they are likely to sell for far less than it will cost to replace them, and you have to pay a fee for the privilege. It usually works out as a very expensive way to pay a debt. Exactly what your rights are to refuse depends on what the debt is.
If you run up a debt on a credit card or an overdraft, the bank will often use a debt collection agency to try to get back the money you owe. Remember - a debt collector is not a bailiff; they can make phone calls, write letters and even call at your home to try to arrange regular payments, but they have no right to come in or to seize goods. If the debt collectors fail, a credit company may take you to the county court if you still don't pay up.
If the court decides you should pay up, they will make a county court Judgment against you, and can send county court bailiffs round. They should give you 7 days warning of a visit, which gives you time to pay up if you can or apply to the court to stop the bailiffs and pay by installments (see 'If you get a letter from bailiffs...'). If you are not in, or pretend you aren't, they may keep coming back until you open up - or the creditor may take other action to make you pay (you may have to go to court). Luckily it’s possible to apply to the court to stop the bailiffs and to pay by installments- contact the court or your local advice agency for details.
Some creditors prefer to use a different bailiff to collect county court judgments. If the debt is over £600, they can transfer it to the High Court and use a High Court Enforcement Officer. His powers are like a county court bailiffs’, except that he can charge higher fees.
If your debt is with the council - for example, for non-payment of council tax - the case goes to the Magistrates Court. If the court decides you must pay up, the council can send private bailiffs round. The council must send you a letter giving 14 days notice of a bailiff visit.
If a magistrates court convicts you of an offence and fines you it can send private bailiffs to collect the fine if you don’t keep up with payments. They will try to recover the fine as a lump sum. The bailiffs have the power to use force to gain initial entry to your home (though they should only do this as a last resort after repeated failures to get in by other means).
Advicenow, Walthamston CAB, Blackfriars Advice Centre
Updated December 2011
Advicenow would like to acknowledge and thank Julie Gray of Islington Law Centre for her help in updating this guide.
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