Receiving a visit from the bailiffs is always a stressful and nerve-racking experience and if you don’t know what your rights are, dealing with bailiffs can be even more challenging. Although bailiffs have some rights when it comes to entering a premise and taking goods, it’s important to understand what you can do to stop them.
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.
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. It’s critical to know the difference as they have different sets of powers.
HCEOs are appointed by the court and collect 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 HCEO, is that a debt collector has no special legal powers to collect a debt and cannot seize goods without your consent, whereas an HCEO does.
Can a bailiff force entry?
Only HCEOs have the right to force entry into business premises where they believe there are assets belonging to the debtor. In the case of residential premises the HCEO cannot force entry but can only enter either by invitation or via an unlocked door or window; they can force entry if they have previously lawfully gained access. Unless they are returning for a second visit with a controlled goods agreement, or they have a ‘writ’ from the courts, they cannot force entry.
Before a HCEO attempts entry, ask for a full breakdown of the entire debt and who the creditor is.
Other debt collectors or enforcement agents have no powers of entry. Some might say that you have to pay them and that you have to let them in. If they can’t give you sufficient documentary evidence from the court, you do not have to let them in.
Always ask to check credentials
The most important thing to do when a bailiff arrives is to get proof of who they are, who they’re working for and what debt they are collecting. All registered HCEOs have to carry proof of who they are and will carry an ID card or ‘enforcement agent certificate’. If they say they’re a debt collector, you don’t have to entertain them at all and can ask them to leave.
Proof of their identity will show you their name and what kind of bailiff they are, giving you a much better idea of where you stand. Tell them to pass relevant documentation through the letterbox or under the door.
Note: If a debt collector refuses to leave you can call the police.
Controlled goods agreement
HCEOs have the right to make a ‘controlled goods agreement’ (CGA) on their first visit. This is a list of items, which equal the value of the debt in question, those items are then owned by the courts. They will not be looking to remove the goods immediately, but instead looking to agree a repayment plan so that the debts can be paid off.
Once you have agreed a CGA you must not interfere with or sell any items on the inventory. If you refuse to sign or agree to a CGA the enforcement agent can remove and sell the goods immediately.
After a CGA is made, if the debt is not paid off within the agreed repayment plan, HCEOs have the right to gain entry. If you don’t let them in, they are allowed to use ‘reasonable force’ such as using a locksmith to unlock a door.
When it comes to dealing with bailiffs, you have every right to not talk to them or let them in. Make sure you check exactly who is visiting you and why, ask them for identification and who’s behalf they are working on. Only high court enforcement officers can gain entry into your premises and different rules apply to residential and commercial properties.
How we can help
If you’re worried about bailiffs visiting you either at home, or on your business premise, knowing your rights is essential. We are here to give you advice on the best and most efficient ways of dealing with bailiffs, but importantly we can also help get to the root of any the problem and why the bailiffs are there in the first place.