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Bailiffs / Enforcement Agents - know your rights

Tuesday, 28th April 2009


New bailiff laws as from 6 April 2014

Bailiffs have been around for centuries but sadly English law has not been sufficiently brought up to date to deal with their activities. All that changed on 6th April 2014 when The Taking Control of Goods Regulations 2013 come into force.

Out go ‘Bailiffs ‘ and in come ‘Enforcement Agents’  -  other changes include

  • A week’s notice must be given before the first visit from an enforcement agent
  • A letter must be left explaining clearly what they’ve done
  • Force to enter can still be used when they’re collecting criminal fines or tax debts, but a judge’s permission is needed
  • Once an enforcement agent has been into your house and made a list of goods, they can use force to enter again if you don’t pay them
  • They can’t climb in through your window to enter your property
  • They can’t enter if only children or vulnerable adults are in the house

There are also new fees, easier to understand and no scope to overcharge.

Bailiffs / Enforcement Agents - know your rights

Having a bailiff call can be a harrowing experience; especially if they are looking to remove your property. Staying calm and making sure you don’t invite them in to your property is essential. In a lot of circumstances they don’t have the right to enter. Don’t be fooled by their initially friendly manner – the repercussions will probably come back to haunt you.

What is a bailiff / Enforcement Agent?

A bailiff / enforcement agent is someone authorised to collect debt on behalf of a creditor. A creditor being someone you owe money to.

    • A court bailiff delivers legal documents to people, and might recover some kinds of debts.
    • A certificated or private bailiff tries to negotiate getting debts paid. As a last resort, they can repossess property or remove a debtor's goods.
    • Certificated bailiffs are private bailiffs that have supplied references to the court and are deemed to be ‘fit and proper individuals’. Bailiffs that collect road traffic fines and rent arrears need to be certified.
    • In Scotland, officers of court serve documents relating to debt recovery. They also give debtors advice on their best course of action.

Bailiffs can be used to collect different types of debts, such as county court judgments, unpaid council tax, magistrates court fines, outstanding rent, unpaid maintenance to the Child Support Agency.

Even though different bailiffs have different powers when collecting debts they all have to adhere to certain rules that apply to all bailiffs.

Anybody can act as a bailiff providing they have the legal authority from the creditor to do so. Most reputable firms however use only Certified Bailiffs.

Do bailiffs / enforcement agents have a code of conduct?

Yes, all bailiffs should adhere to the following:

  • If the only person present is, or appears to be, under the age of 18 then the bailiff must leave.
  • Ideally visits should be made between the hours 6am and 9pm and should not take place on a Sunday, bank holiday unless permitted by the Court; an exception to this could be when the debtor is conducting his business, i.e. works night time only.
  • They should not divulge the nature of the visit to anyone other than to the debtor.
  • In the absence of the debtor any documentation left should be in a sealed envelope.
  • Unless permitted unlawful force should not be used to enter the premises.
  • Goods that clearly indicate that they belong to a child should not be seized.
  • If goods are removed then the debtor should be given a receipt.
  • The debtor should be notified of the fees incurred for each visit and be made aware of additional costs should further action be implemented.
  • The value of any goods seized is in proportion to the debt and the additional charges owed.
  • If Police are in attendance it is to be explained that they are only there to prevent a breach of the peace and that their presence will not influence or assist with the actions of the bailiffs.

What can I do if I receive a notice to say that a bailiff will visit my house?

  • You can either negotiate with the bailiff or the lender/creditor that they are representing.
  • You may wish to make an application to the Court to suspend the bailiff’s action. It would be prudent to contact your local Citizens Advice Bureau for further advice on this.
  • Try and have a friend/witness present to help you record what is being said and note under what authority he/she is acting.
  • You will need to ensure that all doors are kept locked to prevent the bailiff from entering; only in exceptional circumstance can they force entry.
  • A bailiff must remain professional at all times and not use offensive or insulting language, if you are unhappy with a bailiff’s conduct then you can enter a complaint to either the court or the lender concerned.

Will the Police arrest me if I refuse a bailiff entry into my house?

No. The Police are there only to prevent a breach of the peace. You can however be imprisoned if you wilfully refuse to pay council tax, child maintenance or Magistrate Court fines. Before this can happen you will be required to attend Court for a means enquiry hearing.

Can I refuse to let a bailiff in?

Yes you can! However, if you leave a door open then they have the right to enter, and more importantly, they can then force other doors once inside the property. It is important to note that once they have gained peaceful entry they can return and force entry. Be careful of persuasive ways of gaining peaceful entry such as:

  • Attempting to walk in as soon as a door is opened.
  • Asking if they can use your telephone to check if an arrangement is satisfactory with their office.
  • They may simply ask you if you would prefer to discuss matters inside.

Do not be fooled by these kind of tactics.

What will happen if I let a bailiff in?

Upon gaining peaceful entry a bailiff may look to seize goods of value that belong to the individual named on the warrant with the intention of selling them at public auction so as to raise money to pay the creditor/lender. Now that the bailiff is in the home he/she can force open any locked doors and cupboards. By allowing peaceful entry you have now given the bailiff the right to return and enter, even without your permission; in effect they can break in and remove your goods.

Can I throw out the bailiff once they have gained peaceful entry?

Any physical contact with the bailiff may lead to an allegation of assault against you.

How do I formally complain about a bailiff?

Your first point of call is to complain to the person who instructed the bailiff, for example a local authority, the county court (if the bailiff is certificated or a county court bailiff) or a trade association.

The majority of private bailiffs will also belong to a trade association, which will have a complaints and grievance procedures you can use. The main trade associations are the Certificated Bailiffs Association (CBA) and the Association of Civil Enforcement Agencies (ACEA).

Contact details as follows:

Ridgefield House
14 John Dalton Street
M2 6JR
Phone: 0161 839 7225
Chesham House
150 Regent Street
Phone: 0207 432 0366
Fax: 0207 432 0516
Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Web: www.acea.org.uk

Related reading

You can read more on Bailiff / Enforcement officers - Know your rights and fees here




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