How to deal with bailiffs: what they can and can’t do
Steve Rees, Managing Director of debt consultant Vincent Bond & Co, says: “When you think about a bailiff or debt collector coming to your door, you invariably conjure up visions of a burly bouncer who will use intimidating tactics to get money or personal items of value from you to pay off the debt you owe.
Fear of the unknown will usually make any situation worse, so by learning what can happen and what your rights are if you are faced with a bailiff, you should feel on firmer ground. There are plenty of rumours and lots of misinformation about what a bailiff can do.
Debt collectors are different to bailiffs. They are employed by creditors and it is their job to reach an agreement with the debtor to pay back the debt. Debt collectors do not have the same powers as bailiffs, they can only visit you and talk to you about repaying your debt. They cannot take goods from you, and if you are being harassed by a debt collector, then you can complain to your local trading standards department.
There are two types of bailiffs, those that are employed by the court or those that are employed privately. If they are employed by the county court, then they do have power to take away your possessions to repay the debt.
However, here we outline what a bailiff can and cannot do when they visit you:
Can a bailiff barge into my property?
Only if you they are chasing a criminal fine that is unpaid, or a debt to HM Revenue & Customs. If you leave a door or window open, they can access the property, but otherwise you have to invite them in.
Can they take away any goods in the house to pay the debt?
No, they can’t. All property taken must belong to the debtor, and items like clothes or work tools cannot be taken at all. TVs, DVDs and the like are fair game.
Is a bailiff showing me an ID card enough to prove I have to pay them?
The bailiff should have an ID card or certificate proving they are who they say they are, but that is not enough to prove you owe money. Ask for a copy of the court order, or authorisation letter for them to take your belongings. If you are uncomfortable, call the police.
Check out their story to make sure you know who is asking for the money. You will know yourself who you owe money to, but do not be afraid to speak to the bailiff through the letter box first.
The bailiff said I could not have a receipt for payment, is that right?
No, this is not the case. You have to prove you have paid, and the bailiff should provide you with a receipt. If they will not, call the police.
Can they really charge me for taking my goods away?
Yes, they can – and they will.
How can I avoid having a bailiff come round?
Deal with your debts and any correspondence from the company you owe money to as soon as you can. Bailiffs are generally called in as a last resort, so you can avoid this nasty experience.
There are many more details about your rights in relation to bailiffs and their powers on directgov.uk.”