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What are bailiffs?

A bailiff, also known as an 'enforcement agent', is a legally authorised person who works on behalf of the courts to recover an outstanding debt, repossess goods or even carry out the eviction of a tenant. There are four types of bailiffs:

Private bailiffs

These types of bailiffs can be self-employed, employed by a private firm or employed by another organisation. They usually collect Council Tax arrears and unpaid parking fines from local authorities. They also collect money owed to HMRC.

County Court bailiff

These bailiffs are directly employed by the County Court to collect unpaid County Court Judgments (CCJs) and they must follow strict guidelines to collect a debt.

High Court Enforcement Officers

A High Court Enforcement Officer is an individual person, who has been authorised by the Ministry of Justice to enforce High Court judgments. If a creditor has more than £600 owed to them through a CCJ (including court costs) they can transfer the judgment to a High Court Enforcement Officer to enforce the judgment. However, they won't be able to enforce a debt if it's regulated by the Consumer Credit Act (for example, unpaid credit cards or things bought on credit), as these can only be enforced through the County Court. This restriction, however, does not apply if the debt is to the value of £25,000 or more.

For further information, read The Consumer Credit Act.

Magistrates Court bailiff

These bailiffs work for the Magistrates Court. They mainly deal with money owed in criminal offences, such as fines.

All listed bailiffs are certified by the courts. This means that they have been granted a certificate by the court that allows them to carry out their duties, such as enforcing a debt or evicting a tenant.

It is important to note that a debt collector is not a bailiff. Some private debt collection agencies may threaten to send someone to your home if you refuse to pay them the amounts they request. Representatives of private Debt Collection Agencies do not have the same powers as bailiffs and in fact, have very little power to enforce a debt or collect money owed.

What to do before bailiffs visit

If you haven’t paid off a debt or a CCJ, you might be sent a letter from the bailiffs saying they will visit your home to collect the payment. It's important that you don't ignore this letter as it is a 'notice of enforcement'. As well as collecting payment for the debt they can charge you fees so you could end up owing more money.

There are things you can do to stop the bailiffs from coming if you act quickly.

Check you are the person who owes money

Your notice of enforcement must say how much is owed and to whom. You won't be responsible for a debt if it belongs to someone else, for example, an ex-partner, or you've already paid all of the debt.

If you're unsure whether you owe money you should call the person you owe money to (the creditor) and ask them why they think you owe the debt. You can also contact the bailiffs and let them know that you don't owe the debt if you are certain.

You will need to call the bailiffs. Their number can be found on the notice of enforcement. You can tell them you're not the person named on the notice of enforcement. You will need to send evidence to prove this, such as copies of a passport, driving licence, utility bills or bank statements from the last three months. You still need to do this even if the debt belongs to someone you live with, such as a housemate or partner.

If you inform them that you will be providing evidence and ask them to put the case on hold, they must do this.

Check the notice of enforcement is valid

You should make sure that the notice includes the correct information. If it doesn't contain the right information, you can make a complaint to the Civil Enforcement Association or to the court that issued the enforcement order.

For the notice to be valid it must:

  • show your correct name and address

  • show the debt you owe and the amount

  • explain that you have 7 days' notice before the bailiffs can visit

  • come from a registered bailiff and not a debt collector (you can check on the Government Justice website for a register of Certified Bailiffs)

  • be sent in the correct letter form, either by post, fax, email or by being fixed to your front door

  • be written in a specific legal format (you can view examples of what the notice of enforcement will look like)

You can take your notice of enforcement to a local Citizens Advice Bureau, where their advisers can check the notice for you.

What can bailiffs take?

Bailiffs can take assets you own or that you jointly own with someone else, such as electrical items, jewellery or a vehicle. If the bailiffs are collecting for someone else's debt, they can't take anything that belongs to you, as long as you don't owe any money.

Bailiffs can only enter your home and repossess items if you let them into your home.

For further information, read guidance on Bailiff's powers when they visit your home.

What are bailiffs not allowed to take?

Bailiffs can't take:

  • belongings that are someone else's property, including items belonging to children

  • pets or guide dogs

  • vehicles, tools or computer equipment that are necessary for work or study up to a value of £1,350

  • anything being paid on finance

  • a mobility vehicle or a vehicle displaying a valid blue badge

  • items that are necessary for 'basic domestic needs', these include a table and enough chairs, beds and bedding, a cooker, microwave and fridge, a washing machine, a phone or mobile phone or any medicine or medical equipment

If bailiffs repossess items that they shouldn't, you can make a complaint within seven days. You can contact the bailiffs themselves, providing evidence of why they shouldn't have taken the items, or complain to the creditor’s ombudsman (where one exists) or Civil Enforcement Association.

For further assistance, contact your local Citizens Advice Bureau or Ask a lawyer.

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