A Bailiff is someone who works on behalf of a creditor to collect debt by taking goods and selling them to pay what is owed. This is known as levying distress. They are legally authorised by the Court to collect debts in this way under is normally known as a Warrant or Warrant of Execution.
Generally speaking Bailiffs are used to enforce Court Orders such as CCJs (County Court Judgements) for the payment of debt, the non payment of council tax, speeding and parking fines. It is quite unusual for commercial lenders such as banks to resort to employing bailiffs.
Comprehensive information about Bailiffs including whether it is likely that a Bailiff will visit your home, how to negotiate with a Bailiff and what items they are allowed to take from you can be found here. The information is divided into a number of key sections.
Bailiffs and the Law
In April 2014 part 3 of the Tribunals Court Enforcement Act 2007 came into force. This clarifies how and when Bailiffs in England & Wales can take goods and the fees that they can charge for doing so – Taking Control of Goods Regulations 2013 and Taking Control of Goods (Fees) Regulations 2014. In general the law simply clarifies the rules that most Bailiffs were already working to however it does now provide a legal framework and basis for complaint if Bailiffs do not act according to the law. Certain terms were also introduced to try and make the action taken by Bailiffs easier to understand. As such Certified Bailiffs are now called Enforcement Agents and a Walking Possession Order is now known as a Controlled Goods Agreement. More information is available here.
When are Bailiffs used?
A bailiff will not normally be employed if you owe money to a bank or credit card company. They are more usually instructed to try and collect non commercial debts such as court fines, council tax arrears, child support agency arrears, rent arrears and unpaid parking fines. The organisation or person owed money will generally go through a lengthy debt collection process and only use a bailiff as a last resort. As such the use of a bailiff can normally be prevented by agreeing a sensible debt repayment plan or other debt solution rather than ignoring the debt . More information is available here.
The different types of Bailiff
There are a number of different types of bailiffs however the most common are called Enforcement Agents (Previously Certified Bailiffs). These are normally employed by private companies and have the power to carry out warrants from the Court to levy distress (take goods and sell them to repay debt). It is important to distinguish bailiffs from debt collectors. Debt collectors employed by debt collection companies may try to visit you at home to negotiate the repayment of debt but they do not have the power to come into your home or take any of your belongings. Further details about the different types of collectors and bailiffs can be found here
Negotiating with a Bailiff
If a bailiff turns up at your door the most important thing to remember is that you should never let them in. If you do then it will be very difficult to get them to leave without signing a Controlled Goods Agreement (previously known as a Walking Possessions Order) which could then lead to your possessions being taken. There is nothing to stop you negotiating a repayment plan with the bailiff or the company they work for as long as you do this on your doorstep and not inside. If they refuse then you should simply ask them to leave and contact whomever you owe the money to. If necessary you can make a complaint about the actions of the bailiff. More information is available here.
Do I have to let a Bailiff into my home?
Generally you do not have to let a bailiff into your home. Normally they can only gain entry using peaceable means such as if you invite them in or if they are able to walk in through an unlocked door or get through an unlocked window. However if you do not allow them to come in they cannot force entry. If they cannot get in on the first visit they are likely to try again at different times but after three attempts they will simply have to give up. There are some occasions where a bailiff will have authority to physically break into your home but these are rare unless you have previously signed a Controlled Goods Agreement. More information about this is available here.
What can a Bailiff take?
After gaining peaceable entry to your property a bailiff can take any of your non essential items. However they are not allowed to take things like your clothes, bedding, reasonable furniture and essential household equipment such as your fridge, cooker and freezer. They are also not allowed to take any tools of your trade and things that do not belong to you although this might be difficult to prove. Normally a bailiff will not take goods straight away but ask you to sign a Controlled Goods Agreement stating that if you do not repay what you owe in the timescales agreed the goods listed will then be taken. Further details can be found here.