Monday, 25 February 2008

ARE THE BAILIFFS COMING TO YOU?

We all know them as bailiffs, but they are now officially called Enforcement Officers (England and Wales) or Judicial Officers (Scotland), but whatever you call them – do you know what to do if they arrive on your doorstep? Here’s a brief summary:

Don’t confuse a bailiff with your creditor’s representative. A creditor’s* representative (or a debt collector) does not have authority from the court. Always ask for ID, but you don’t have to let them in or discuss anything with them. You can ask them to leave and call the police if they will not.
*the person or business you owe money to

If it is a bailiff, then it will be that your creditor has been to court and the judge has authorised a warrant for them to visit you and try to collect the debt. They should be quite reasonable and if you make some sort of arrangement with them to pay, they should listen. You should have had advanced warning** that they are going to call on you. If you happen to be out when they call they will leave a letter with contact details – it is wise to contact them with some sort of offer to pay the debt. If you are in you don’t have to open the door to them, you can just tell them to leave their contact details and that you will be in touch (in writing) with an offer of payment – then do so.
**to stop the bailiffs coming after this notification
is issued, go to your County Court and fill in form N245, making an offer to settle the debt, by instalments if necessary, but make it in an amount that you can afford and will be able to keep on paying.

A bailiff cannot force an entry to your home unless they are coming to evict you (for non-payment of mortgage or rent) or you owe some kind of Crown debt (a fine, for example, or tax to HMRC or you are behind with Council tax payments). They can also force entry if they are trying to collect unpaid magistrates' court fines. But otherwise, you don’t have to let them in. Should they force entry by pushing in past you if you open the door to them, this renders the whole process illegal.

Do not sign anything – they may tell you that if you just sign a piece of paper, they’ll go. This could be an attempt to get you to sign a “walking possession order”. Warning - signing this paper can give them right of forced entry at later date.

If you possibly can, make an offer of a small amount (even £2 or £3 per month) towards the debt. Don’t let them in and don’t sign anything. If you do give them any money make sure you get a written receipt for it. If you later get a court summons you should attend to put your case and the judge may even reset the amount you’ve previously offered to pay –hopefully to a lower amount.

Be aware of some tricks that bailiffs may use to get entry to your property-
they may just walk in open doors or climb in windows, or they may be chummy and ask if they can use your loo or your ‘phone. Apparently they have been known to take vehicles or look through windows to try to ascertain what you own that may be taken in payment of the debt, so don’t park your vehicle in your driveway and close your curtains.

In the worst case scenario, if bailiffs have gained entry to your home and have a court order, they are not allowed to take any essential items like your clothes, cooker, bedding or fridge. Most furniture is classed as essential, so they cannot take that, or tools that you use for your living (e.g. plumbing, carpentry tools etc.) but they can take the contents of any unlocked garages or sheds in your garden.

More help and information:

National Debtline

Citizens' Advice Bureau

National standards for enforcement agents

Community Legal Advice

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