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 had read somewhere that it was a mistake to let bailiffs in, plus the house was a mess, so I said I would rather talk about it on the doorstep. They clearly 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 did not 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 Income Support to pay off the debt. I don’t have to hide behind the door anymore.”
Lessons from Christine’s story
There are 5 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. If the bailiff is there because of unpaid council tax or unpaid bills, the bailiff can only come in if you let them in, or if they have come in and claimed some of your belongings on an earlier visit and told you when they would come back to pick them up if you did not make payments - and you failed to make payments. If the bailiff is there to collect income tax or a criminal fine, he can, in certain circumstances, use ‘reasonable force’ to get in.
- 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. Don’t feel intimidated by them. 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 might have resorted to a ‘back street lender’, or one of those companies that say they don’t ask questions before lending. These sorts of lenders usually charge huge rates of interest, which will just increase the size of your debt. It’s far better to get proper money advice and support – which you can get for free at your local advice agency.
- If you have debts from household bills (such as phone, gas or electricity bills), you should tell the company if someone else is also responsible for them, 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! Your local advice agency can often get a better result for you because they know the law, and will not be intimidated by false threats.