The history of bailiffs dates back to the times of Norman England when this term applied to sheriffs and mayors. With time it was narrowed to describe an officer who collected fines on the behalf of court.
Currently, bailiffs are employed by local authorities. Their main task is to collect debts from individuals for unpaid taxes or parking charges.
However, numerous problems have arisen due to bailiffs’ unlawful activity. The reports published by Citizens Advice Bureaux reviled that on many occasions have the rights of debtors been broken. Bailiffs have been accused of harassment and intimidation. Also, the issues with wrongful charging of fees and unlawful entries to the property have been reported.
The abovementioned problems arise mostly due to the lack of supervision of the bailiffs activity, monitoring of complaints and redress mechanisms.
A bailiff - what does he do?
A bailiff is a general term describing individuals who are appointed to collects debts. Although in the UK it may refer to many different types of debt collectors, the type we will discuss here is so called Certified Bailiff – an employee authorized by court, holding a proper certification allowing him to collect taxes and fines on behalf of local authorities and TFL.
Can bailiffs break in?
Bailiffs cannot force entry or break into your home. If a bailiff knocks on your door, you do not have an obligation to let him inside. He may, however, let himself in if the doors or windows are not closed. He can also collect possessions remaining outside your home, for example a car. He can also charge you with additional fees for preventing him from entering. Remember that once the bailiff entered your property, he may come back without previous notice or without your permission. He will be then also entitled to collect your goods.
A bailiff can take:
Bailiffs have a right to take things referred to as “luxury goods”, such as computers, TVs etc.
A bailiff cannot take:
Bailiffs cannot take your personal belongings, e.g. clothes, or the things essential for everyday existence, e.g. furniture or a cooker. He also cannot take things belonging to someone else, e.g. your friend’s game console.
The bailiff is obliged to put the things seized from you on auction and get the best price possible. Of course you cannot expect that the price he will get will be nowhere near the price you paid for the new goods.
"Walking Possession Agreement"
Remember that you do not have to agree for the bailiff to take your possessions. There is a document called ‘Walking Possession Agreement’ which will allow you to keep using your things for a few more days for a small daily charge. This is however only temporary solution, designed to give you more time to negotiate the terms of repayment.
Bailiffs rights – what they cannot do:
- Break into your home
- Enter your property by force
- Take goods that you rent or pay installments for
- Threaten or abuse you
- Send you to prison
Although bailiffs are allowed to charge additional fees, their amount is subject to Statutory Regulation. However, in order to stop bailiffs from imposing unfair charges a debtor must be aware of his rights - debt collectors are known to often abuse their powers in this field.
How to deal with bailiffs?
One way to stop bailiffs from taking an action against you is to apply to the court or local authority.
If the court will not allow for suspension of bailiff’s action, you can always contact the bailiff and negotiate on your own. The bailiff or the creditor is allowed to extend the period of repayment.
Preventing a bailiff from entering your home will not make the problem disappear – he will keep coming back until he doesn’t collect your debt. He will also be allowed to charge you with additional fees. The best solution is to negotiate the realistic repayment period and the amount of installments affordable for you.
Always ask the bailiff to show the evidence of his identity. You should note it down, as well as any other important information he provides you with. In order to avoid accusations of any kind, have a witness present during the bailiff’s visit.