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Dealing with the debt recovery bailiff on your doorstep

Ok, so you’ve managed to get yourself into debt and you’ve tipped yourself just far enough over the edge to be struggling to pay it back. This is nothing new for many people but the problem is still undesirable until you find a healthy way to resolve the situation.

If things get out of hand there’s a chance that the people you owe money to, your creditors, will utilise one of a selection of options in retrieving the debt. One such option is to send a bailiff to collect it or to confiscate items that belong to you in order to sell them and use the money gained from the sale as payment or part-payment of the debt in question.

Debt collectors

Don’t get a debt collector and a bailiff mixed up. They do a very similar job but they hold very different powers and responsibilities. If there’s a debt collector at the door then that’s not great news but it’s not the worst news. A debt collector has very little power and most of their success is based around the debtor’s naivety in what they can and can’t do.

A debt collector can’t force entry, he can’t confiscate your belongings, in fact all you have to do is ask them to leave and once you’ve made that request they have to respect your wishes and go.

How do you tell a bailiff from a debt collector?

Ask them. A bailiff must always carry their badge, certificate or identity card to prove they are exactly who they say they are. You should also ask them which company or court they are working for. If you’re still not convinced that they’re who they say they are then request their employer’s telephone number and call them to confirm it.

A bailiff will likely be carrying a legal document issued by the County Court, Magistrates Court or High Court outlining your debt and its details.

Lock the door

A bailiff’s best tool is being able to access your property so keep the door locked at all times. If the door is unlocked a bailiff has the right to come in without invitation and once inside they will be very difficult to remove. They have a job to do and are very efficient. They know the rules inside out and will use every one of them to their advantage if you allow them to.

If you’re going to request ID then do it through the letterbox, or keep your door on a security chain, even speak to them through a window if there’s no other option. It’s a good idea to meet them outside via a different door but make sure you lock it behind you.

Alternatively, speak to them on the phone. It’s a perfectly acceptable method in order to keep them outside.

A bailiff can’t access your home through the window on their first visit, they must be allowed into your home through peaceable means, but once you’ve allowed them access they are then allowed to use reasonable force to gain the same level of access on future visits so it’s imperative that you start as you mean to go on.

Check the time

A bailiff can only enter your home between the hours of 6am and 9pm. If they call at any other time then they must leave and return at a time within the allotted hours.

What can they do if they do get in?

If the bailiff does access your property they can’t take any of your belongings on their first visit. They will have full access to the property and they will use this right to take a complete and detailed inventory of all the items with a resalable value that they intend to take from you. These items when seized will be sold in order to assist in paying off your debt.

They can only take the amount of goods whose value adds up to the total sum of the debt and any fees incurred by doing so.

What can they take?

  • They can take any item that you own or item you part own with other residents of the property.
  • They can take your vehicle as long as it’s parked on your property or a public road.
    • If the vehicle is parked on somebody else’s driveway or other private property they don’t have the right to take it unless they hold a specific order giving them permission to do so.
    • If you’re expecting a visit from a bailiff then find somewhere else to park your car. If they can’t find it, they can’t take it.
    • They can’t take your vehicle if it’s your home; for example, a campervan or motorhome.
    • They can’t take your vehicle if you’re still paying for it on finance.
    • They can’t take your vehicle if you use it as part of your business.

What can’t they take?

  • They can’t take household goods required to meet a basic level of domestic living. This means they must leave clothing, bedding, furniture, food, drink, household appliances such as your cooker, microwave, washing machine or your fridge, your mobile phone or landline telephone, and any fixtures or fittings you need on a day-to-day basis to live.
    This also includes a table and enough chairs for everyone in the household and medicines or any items you need in order to care for a child or an older person.
  • They can’t take any tools, books, computers or vehicles used in your employment or business.
    • However, a bailiff acting on a failure in payment of Poll Tax, Council Tax, VAT or Income Tax may be able to do so.
  • They cannot take pets or guide dogs.
  • They cannot take items under a hire purchase agreement or under a rental agreement. Goods bought on credit can be taken because the item is classed as your property.
  • They can’t take a Motability vehicle or a vehicle displaying a blue badge.

What can I do if I know they’re coming

Move your possessions

You will be made aware of a bailiff’s visit in advance by letter so if you don’t want them to be able to take any goods then remove them from your property on the first visit.

If the bailiff gains access to your property, despite not being able to seize the goods at that time, anything they add to their inventory will become part of a ‘controlled goods agreement’ and you must relinquish any of the items in due course that are part of this agreement.

Leave the property

If you’re not at home when the bailiff calls they can’t access your property using any kind of force on the first visit unless they hold a specific order giving them the right to do so.

If you do choose to leave the property then make sure nobody else is there to let them in. If a family member or other tenant of the property allows entry to the bailiff then they hold the same rights as if you let them in.

Don’t tell them who you are

If the bailiff doesn’t have proof that you are who they are looking for then they are less likely to continue to add unmerited pressure on you to let them in. This tactic isn’t against the law and is a useful method of trying to get them to leave with the minimal amount of confrontation. For more information and help with bailiffs visit bailiffs help and advice.


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