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Difference between a bailiff, high court enforcement officer and debt collector

Bailiffs, high court enforcement officers and debt collectors all have the same purpose of retrieving a debt on behalf of a creditor. Although they can all visit your home, there are differences between the powers debt collectors and bailiffs have when it comes to taking goods and entering premises.

What is a bailiff?

Bailiffs are agents instructed to retrieve debts on behalf of either a creditor or the courts. There are two types of bailiffs who have varying degrees of power. A high court enforcement officer (HCEO) or a debt collector. All enforcement agents must be fully certified with a Bailiff General Certificate from the county court, or with someone who is certified whenever they attempt to collect a debt.

A high court enforcement officer is appointed by the court and collects debts on behalf of the courts. They will usually collect debts such as CCJs, VAT, income tax, national insurance, court fees and unpaid council tax. A debt collector is employed by a private company. The biggest and most important difference between debt collectors and enforcement agents, is that a debt collector has no special legal powers to collect a debt, whereas an enforcement agent does.

High Court Enforcement Officer

High court enforcement officers (HCEO) formerly known as sheriffs, are officials acting on behalf of the court and appointed by the Ministry of Justice. They have the ability to enforce orders from the High Court such as CCJs over £600. Working on behalf of the court for the creditor, although they have more powers than a debt collector they must still act in accordance with the rules of the court.

Debt collector

A debt collector is an individual who works for a debt collection agency and has been employed by the creditor to collect assets equal to the value of the debt. As debt collectors have no power in actually collecting goods, it is often used as a technique by creditors to try and intimidate people into settling their debts.

Debt collectors do not have the right to enter premises, commercial or residential and they cannot force entry. This includes breaking windows, doors or pushing past when you open the door. A debt collector must leave the property if you ask, if you choose not to open the door or let them in there is nothing they can do about it.

What’s the difference?

Although technically both high court enforcement officers and debt collectors are bailiffs, the powers that both parties have differ greatly.

Debt collectors are hired by creditors and as such do not carry the same powers as HCEOs. Because debt collectors are not acting on behalf of the courts, but are instead hired privately through a creditor, their powers are very limited. Debt collectors are not allowed to enter a business or personal property unless invited in. As a HCEO is acting on behalf of the courts and has greater power available to them, in certain circumstances they have the power to enter a building using force, but only after exhausting all other alternative options.

What powers do they have

As HCEOs are working on behalf of the courts they have much greater powers than debt collectors, with legal rights and powers which are granted to them on behalf of the courts. As debt collectors are hired by private firms, they do not have the same rights enforcement officers have and can’t take items like a HCEO officer.

HCEOs

  • HCEOs are not allowed to use violent, intimidating or aggressive tactics when collecting debts and must respect your confidentiality.
  • When recovering business debts, HCEOs cannot take any essential items which are crucial to work.
  • Any assets on lease or hire purchase cannot be taken.
  • When collecting from individuals, there are a similar set of guidelines and HCEOs can’t take items someone cannot live without and can only take luxury goods.

Debt Collectors

  • Debt collectors do not have the same rights as HCEOs and as such, under no circumstances can they force entry into a residential or business premises, nor can they seize any goods without the permission of the debtor.

Gaining entry

Enforcement officers aren’t allowed to force entry into the premises of an individual during their first visit. This means they cannot push past you or climb through a window. If an enforcement agent has previously been to an individual’s premises and listed goods in a controlled goods agreement, they are able to use force to enter if unpaid. HCEOs can use force to break into a business premises if they have exhausted all other options.

Debt collectors do not have the right to enter premises, commercial or residential and they cannot force entry. This includes breaking windows, doors or pushing past when you open the door. A debt collector must leave the property if you ask, if you choose not to open the door or let them in there is nothing they can do about it.

Find out more about what powers bailiffs have

In summary

Although all bailiffs have the same purpose in their work, the powers and rights they have are very different. Debt collectors are not acting on behalf of the courts and are hired privately by creditors. Their powers are very limited, and they cannot enter into a commercial or individual premise unless invited in. A high court enforcement officer is acting on behalf of the courts and therefore has more legal powers than a debt collector. In specific circumstances an HCEO does have the right to enter a building using force, however, this is normally after exhausting all other alternative options.

How we can help

If you’re worried about bailiffs visiting you, or are anticipating a second visit, it’s vital to act as quickly as possible to avoid further damage. We can help talk you through all of your rights when it comes to handling bailiffs, as well as what they are legally allowed to do. Most importantly, we will be able to give you the best possible guidance on moving forward and find out the root of the problem, that caused a visit in the first place.

Authored by Lisa Hogg

Lisa Hogg

Director & Licensed Insolvency Practitioner

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