Bailiffs and debt collectors may come to your home if you can’t repay your debts and you’ve ignored letters. So what are your rights if the bailiffs call – find out what they can and can’t do.
Your rights if the bailiffs call
We often talk about ‘bailiffs’ to mean bailiffs or debt collectors. But the two are very different and have different powers. Bailiffs have far more powers than debt collectors and are only used by local councils, courts and in a few other limited circumstances.
When bailiffs may be used
Bailiffs can only be used if you owe money to specific organisations or for specific reasons, such as:
- Local authority: if you owe council tax or a parking fine, for example
- Courts: court fine or county court judgment (CCJ)
- Mortgage lender: to repossess your home
- HM Revenue and Customs: for unpaid tax, VAT or National Insurance
- Child Maintenance Services: for unpaid child support.
SAVVY TIP: Local authorities, the child support agency and HMRC may use bailiffs from private firms rather than their own bailiffs. Private firms have to be certificated if they’re dealing with arrears on certain types of debts.
What you can do if a bailiff calls
You may feel you don’t have any rights if a bailiff comes knocking at your door but that’s not true. For a start, a bailiff can’t force their way into your home if it’s a first visit and you don’t have to open your front door or let them in.
However, they are allowed to enter your home if you leave a door or window open or invite them in
SAVVY TIP: According to the GOV.UK website’s information about bailiffs, a bailiff isn’t allowed to force their way in by pushing past you or by putting their foot in the door and you can call the police if this happens. If they’ve visited once or more in the past and haven’t been able to get in, they may be able to force their way in if they are collecting unpaid criminal fines, tax or VAT.
Dealing with a bailiff
If you decide to open the door to a bailiff, Citizens Advice recommends that you ask for the following:
- Proof of their identity
- A copy of the original court order saying that you owe the money
- A copy of their authorisation to take goods away. It’s generally called a ‘warrant of execution’ if they’re dealing with council tax arrears or high court/county court debts, while it’s a ‘warrant of delivery’ for goods you’ve purchased under a hire purchase agreement.
SAVVY TIP: Citizens Advice also recommends that you check the dates of the documents to check they’re still valid as a warrant of execution, for example, is normally only valid for a year unless a judge has agreed to extend it.
What bailiffs can take
If you let a bailiff into your home, they are allowed to take some of your belongings, such as TV, computer or your car.
They can’t take:
- Things you need, such as clothes, cooker, furniture or work tools
- Someone else’s belongings.
NB This information applies to England and Wales only.
Paying a bailiff
If you want to pay a bailiff, make sure you get a receipt (and you don’t have to invite them in — you can pay them on the doorstep). If you can’t pay there and then, tell the bailiff you’ll pay the lender/court etc directly – and make sure you contact them and offer to pay what you can.
SAVVY TIP: If you don’t make an offer to pay once a bailiff has been round, you could be taken to court.
What you can do if a debt collector calls
Debt collectors are not bailiffs by another name. They have very few legal powers. They cannot enter your home without you letting them in and they can’t take any of your possessions. They are allowed to ring you up, write to you or visit your home to try and get you to repay the money. Debt collectors are often used by:
- Banks, building societies, loan companies and credit card providers
- Catalogue shops
- Energy providers
SAVVY TIP: If you feel you’ve been bullied by a debt collector or that they’ve tried to overstep their powers, you should complain to the company first of all, and follow it up with a complaint to your local Trading Standards office or the Financial Ombudsman Service. Debt advice charities such as Citizens Advice, StepChange and National Debtline will be able to give you information about what to do.
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