Q578: What is the law relating to bailiffs collecting civil debts?
Bailiffs, also known as enforcement agents, work on behalf of the courts to collect debt. Below is a summary of bailiff's powers, see links in related information to Citizen's Advice Bureau for more details. They have the power to take your possessions in order to sell them and give money to your creditor if you have failed to maintain payments previously.
Debt collectors do not have the same powers as bailiffs so in order to make sure they are legitimate you should ask to see their identity. This could be through seeing proof such as an ID card/badge, a contact telephone number, the company they work for or a detailed breakdown of the debts owed. If you are suspicious that the person is acting as a bailiff but no ID is produced, this person could be committing fraud and you should contact the company they say they work for.
When property is being seized, it is your responsibility to prove if any does not belong to you. If you are able to make repayments in cash, you may come to an agreement with the bailiff to make either monthly/weekly payments. If more than £1500 is owed, a percentage of this will be used as an additional payment when necessary each time a visit is needed.
High Court Enforcement Officers - responsible for enforcing High Court orders and will attend your premises at first opportunity to give you a chance to pay the debts.
Civilian Enforcement Officers - enforce certain magistrates' and crown court orders and can execute warrants of arrest. Can arrest without notice or give you time to pay the debt.
Certified enforcement agents - hold a certificate granted by the County Court. They can enforce debt from criminal fines, council tax home domestic rates, road traffic, child support etc.
There are rules that set out what a bailiff can and cannot do, please see the list below:
Must give an enforcement notice of at least 7 days' prior to visiting the home
Can only enter home by usual means of entry (for example through door, not window)
Cannot enter homes where only children (under 16 years) are present
Cannot normally call outside the hours of 6am-9pm
Cannot enter homes by force (unless unpaid fines from magistrates' courts or with a court order)
Cannot be used by landlords to seize property as rent arrears, without going to court
Cannot take household items that are considered to satisfy basic domestic needs such as; cookers/washing machine/fridge/clothing/bedding
Cannot sell goods retrieved from debtor, unless 7 days have passed since removal
Bailiffs are now to be responsible for proving to the court that a warrant must be issued in order to access premises that they believe has goods belonging to the debtor.
In some circumstances they may get permission to use reasonable force as entry, this means they can forcibly open a door/ cut a padlock, it does not mean that they can physically force their way past you or climb over walls/through windows to gain access.
For any further queries you can speak to your local Citizens Advice Bureau. You will find the link in the related information section, along with other helpful websites.
You should not ignore the debts, they will not go away. It is better to try and negotiate with the creditors.