Bailiffs, Debt Collectors & Threats – What Are The Rules?

For people struggling under the burden of financial pressure and in need of the services of an insolvency practitioner, much of the stress of being in debt is compounded by the fear of the consequences which may result. Chief among these fears is the thought of bailiffs or debt collectors turning up at the door and taking away belongings.

While it’s a reasonable fear to have, for many, it’s an unfounded one. There are strict rules about how Bailiffs and Debt collectors operate and knowing those rules can take some of that worry away.


What rules govern the behaviour of Bailiffs? And Debt Collectors?


There are different types of Bailiff’s each with different powers, but these aren’t the same as debt collectors.

Bailiff’s are sometimes known as enforcement agents and the primary difference between them and debt collectors is that they have legal powers when it comes to collecting debt. Usually Bailiff’s are used to collect ‘official’ debts like CCJ’s, criminal fines and child maintenance payments as well as money owed to local authorities or HMRC like Council tax, parking penalties and other forms of taxation.

Debt collectors (who may refer to themselves as field agents or doorstep collectors) on the other hand are usually engaged by other creditors and have very limited powers compared to Bailiff’s. Debt collectors lack the power to remove goods and can do little more than ask for payment to be made or arranged. They cannot refer to themselves as Bailiff’s and to do so is technically fraud.

Bailiff’s do have powers to remove goods and in very limited circumstances to do against the will of the debtor, but they do have to abide by the rules when so doing.


Rules Governing Bailiffs

  • With the exception of debts to HMRC a court order is required before bailiff’s can be involved in the collection of debt.
  • Bailiff’s cannot turn up unannounced and must send a ‘notice of enforcement’ a minimum of seven days before they arrive.
  • In most circumstances, Bailiff’s can’t force entry (unless collecting a criminal fine or if they’re calling on behalf of HMRC) and you don’t have to let them in. If you open the door, they can’t push past you.
  • If a child answers the door, they cannot enter if there is no one over 16 present
  • A Bailiff who is allowed entry won’t usually take goods straight away, preferring instead to make a note of what you have of value which can be seized and sold later if necessary. If you allow entry and they make such a list, they ARE allowed to use force to enter next time. (If your goods have been inventoried, you must not sell, remove or hide them).
  • Bailiff’s can’t take anything they like though. The following cannot be seized;
    • Items and appliances you need to live and eat like cookers, fridges
    • Basic furniture like beds, dining table
    • Goods you need to make a living like tools and machinery
    • Fitted furniture and fixtures
    • Family pets
    • Goods which don’t belong to the debtor or have not yet been fully paid for
    • Vehicles which are parked on private land elsewhere (unless they have a court order) or vehicles clearly for use by disabled persons.

These lists aren’t exhaustive, but serve to illustrate that there are limits to what a Bailiff can seize in respect of monies owed.


The Complaints Procedure for Bailiffs is underused

Despite the rules for Bailiffs and Debt Collectors being as they are, a Citizen’s Advice survey at the start of the year uncovered that many people who had witnesses behaviour by such collectors which breached those rules didn’t complain, just 28% made a report. The reasons given for not complaining varied from having no faith in the complaint procedure, not being sure how they should complain, or feeling too stressed to put in a complaint.

In the future, thanks in part to the response to the CA survey, the government are under pressure to introduce a formal regulator for Bailiff’s, but in the meantime it helps to know the rules so that you can deal with debt collectors with confidence.


Deal With Your Debt so You Don’t Have To Deal With the Bailiffs

Bailiffs are usually the last resort of a creditor who’s exhausted all other options. Dealing with the debt before they’re sent round is always preferable and there are several options which can help manage problem debt before it gets that stage.

When debt becomes unaffordable, it can be tempting to just ignore the problem, but this almost always makes things worse. A far better option it to take action as soon as you realise you have a debt problem, giving you more control over the process and taking away the feeling of powerlessness that so often accompanies debt problems.

At Lines Henry, we accustomed to helping people burdened with financial worry of all kinds and have years of experience providing advice and assistance which allow them to deal with their problem debt once and for all. Contact us and we’ll help you get your finances back on track.

We offer a free consultation and a positive commitment to helping you relieve the stress and worry of unmanageable debt.


Speak to us, feel better.