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Bailiffs, debt collectors and high court enforcement officers, what are your rights?

Defaulting on business debts and liabilities can occur for a number of reasons but if you have missed your repayments or have stopped making your monthly payments it can lead to strong action being taken by your creditors.

When you no longer make payments and don’t speak to your lender/provider to reach a payment agreement and explain your situation, this is when you are likely to be paid a visit by a debt collector, bailiff or high court enforcement officer (HCEO).

What to expect when a bailiff, debt collector or HCEO calls

When one of these officers calls to collect business debt, the process will be relatively similar whoever it is that turns up at your business premises.

  • You should receive notice in advance that someone is likely to call.
  • A court order will not be required, if you or your business owes tax, before a bailiff can visit the premises to try and take control of goods.
  • Bailiffs can try and take control of goods you personally own on your business premises for personal debts.
  • If you are a sole trader or in a partnership, you will personally own all or part of any asset of your business meaning that business assets can be taken.
  • For a limited company, only assets that belong to the limited company, and not you personally, can be taken control of.
  • If you know there will be a visit to your business premises, you should make sure you do not leave windows or external door open. This will be difficult to achieve if your business premises is open to the public.
  • When an officer arrives at your business premise, they should show you some identification such as a badge when requested so that you know who they are.
  • In the majority of cases, bailiffs should not force entry if they have not been before however the rules can differ for business premises.

Debt collectors

Debt collectors are hired by a lender in an attempt to collect what you owe your creditor. They are not appointed by a court so they do not have any certification from the court to work on its behalf. This also means that they lack some of the legal powers that bailiffs and HCEOs have.

As a result, you have many rights over a debt collector. Along with the above process for when a debt collector calls, here is what you should know if you ever find yourself dealing with a debt collector.

  • They should tell you who they are, who they are working for and what the amount you owe is.
  • They cannot threaten or intimidate you, any other directors or any employees of the company
  • They do not have the authority to take or sell any of your personal possessions or assets of the business
  • They cannot tell anyone else about the debts of the business and they cannot threaten to do so, if this is not already public knowledge
  • They should not visit your business’ premises without prior notice

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Bailiffs

A bailiff is appointed by the court and therefore they have more legal powers than a debt collector does. They are able to collect certain debts including CCJs, VAT, Income Tax, National Insurance, court fees, unpaid council tax etc.

They can search your business premises for assets and they may be able to remove non-essential items.

Along with the above process for when a bailiff calls, here is what you need to be aware of when you are dealing with bailiffs:

  • In most cases, they should enter without force and they will need your permission to enter the premises.
  • They can enter via an unlocked door or window but they cannot use force
  • If you do let them in, they will be entitled to enter by force if they come back to your premises again
  • They cannot take away any assets deemed essential to the business
  • They cannot take away any of yours or your employees personal possessions, they can only take assets belonging to the business.
  • They are unable to take any vehicles or assets if the business is not the outright owner because they have been borrowed or are subject to a hire purchase agreement

HCEO’s

HCEO’s are formerly known as sheriffs and they are officials acting on behalf of the High Court. They have the power to enforce orders from the High Court such as CCJs over £600 which the creditor has applied to have transferred to the High Court.

Although, they have the most powers they must act in accordance with the rules of the court. These rules are:

  • They must not use violent or aggressive tactics
  • They must respect your confidentiality
  • They should act fairly when balancing your interests against those of your creditor
  • They should not take away any essential business possessions
  • They cannot take any rented or hire purchased vehicles/assets
  • They should provide you with help and advice on resolving the situation if they can

What can you do when a debt collector, bailiff, HCEO calls?

You do have options available to you to try and sort our debt situation out when one of these officials calls. You can:

  • Work out a new and manageable payment plan with the officer as they are working on behalf of your creditor
  • You can contact your creditor directly to discuss the situation and come to some sort of arrangement that suits both parties
  • You can get in touch with Wilson Field and we will be able to provide you with advice on how to deal with this situation and we can help you to deal with your debt problems through insolvency proceedings or our business restructuring services.

If you are an insolvent company, you should get in touch on 0800 901 2475 for information and advice as soon as possible.

References and further reading

Header image – CNBC.com

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