As a citizen, you have certain rights when it comes to bailiffs (also known as debt collectors or enforcement agents). Bailiffs are authorized to collect debts on behalf of creditors, but they must follow certain rules and procedures when doing so.
Under the Tribunals, Courts and Enforcement Act 2007, bailiffs must respect your right to quiet enjoyment of your home, which means they cannot enter your home between 9pm and 6am, unless there is an emergency. Bailiffs are also not allowed to enter your home by force, unless they have a warrant from the court.
You also have the right to ask the bailiff to leave at any time, and they must comply with your request. However, this does not mean that you do not have to pay the debt; it simply means that the bailiff will have to find another way to collect the debt.
It is important to note that bailiffs are not allowed to use physical force or threats against you. If a bailiff behaves in an aggressive or threatening manner, you can report them to the court or to the relevant regulatory body.
It is also worth considering seeking legal advice if you are having difficulty dealing with bailiffs. A legal professional can help you understand your rights and options, and may be able to negotiate with the bailiffs on your behalf.
What is a bailiff?
Bailiffs are agents instructed to retrieve debts on behalf of either a creditor or the courts. The amount of power a bailiff has is dependant on what type of professional position they hold.
This position can either be 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, otherwise they are not authorised to continue in their proceedings. A HCEO is appointed by the court and collects debts on behalf of the courts. The debts they normally collect include CCJs, VAT income tax, national insurance, court fees and unpaid council tax.
Debt collectors will always be employed by privatised companies. The biggest and most notable difference between debt collectors and enforcement agents is that debt collectors have no special legal powers to actually collect a debt, but an enforcement agent does. If you do not give your consent, a debt collector has no right to take away your goods.
Difference between a High Court Enforcement Officer & debt collector?
A High Court Enforcement Officer (HCEO) is a type of bailiff who is authorized to collect debts on behalf of creditors, but only in cases where the debt has been determined by a court and a judgment has been issued. HCEOs have the power to enforce a wide range of orders and judgments, including those related to unpaid bills, rent, and fines.
Debt collectors, on the other hand, are private individuals or companies that are hired by creditors to collect unpaid debts. Debt collectors do not have the same powers as HCEOs and are not authorized to enforce court orders or judgments. They may contact you by phone, letter, or in person to try to negotiate payment of the debt, but they cannot use force or threats to collect the debt.
One key difference between HCEOs and debt collectors is that HCEOs have the power to seize and sell your property in order to pay off the debt, while debt collectors do not have this power. If you are being contacted by an HCEO, it is important to take the matter seriously and consider seeking legal advice, as the HCEO has the authority to take action against you if you do not pay the debt. If you are being contacted by a debt collector, you may still be able to negotiate a payment plan or dispute the debt if you believe it is not valid.
Can a bailiff force entry?
It is only HCEOs that actually possess the right to force entry into your business premises in situations where they believe there are assets belonging to the debtor. Though, in cases of residential premises visits, the HCEO are not allowed to force entry in any way. They are only granted entry by invitation or unforced entry, which is basically going through an unlocked door or window; they can however force entry if they have previously lawfully gained access.
So, 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, you should definitely ask for a full run through of who the creditor is, as well extensive information on the debt itself.
Other debt collectors or enforcement agents have no powers of entry. Even though some may state that you’ll have to pay them, or that you have to let them in, if they can’t supply you with a sufficient amount of documentary evidence from the court, you are completely within your rights to turn them away from your door until they have said documentation.
Can bailiffs force entry? The answer to this depends on the type of debt they are collecting, and whether they have visited before. If they are collecting an unpaid CCJ and this is their first visit, they cannot force entry. There are however certain situations where bailiffs can force entry, including:
- Collecting unpaid fines: As a last resort they can force entry, whether they have been in your home before or not, if they have a Magistrates Court warrant.
- They have gained peaceful entry before: If they have been in your property before by means of ‘peaceable entry’, they can force entry when they next visit if you do not allow them in.
- County Court bailiffs entering a commercial property: They can only do this if there is no living accommodation attached. They need permission from the court to force entry into any commercial property.
- Collecting income tax or VAT: They must also have permission from the court – for example a tax collector, HMRC Bailiff with a warrant from a Magistrates court. And they can only do this if they failed in a previous attempt at ‘peaceable entry’.
- Following goods: Where entry was gained from a different property and made a levy, and they are now following the goods.
Always ask to check credentials
The main things you need to find out when facing a bailiff are who they are, who they’re here on behalf of, and finally the reasons behind the visit to your business or house. All registered HCEOs are required to carry proof of who they are and will therefore either have an ID card or ‘enforcement agent certificate’. If they do not have this identification with them during their visit to you, they have no right to act against you at that time.
If they simply state they’re a debt collector and have n other means of proving so other than their word, you can ask them to leave. You’ll have no need to entertain them in this case.
Any proof of their identity they show you should have their name, as well as what kind of bailiff they are. This will give you a much better idea of where you stand with them. In order to get this information before they enter your home or business, you can ask them to push the documentation through a letter box or under the door.
You may contact the police if a debt collector refuses to leave once you’ve asked them to.
In conclusion, as a citizen in the UK, you have certain rights when it comes to dealing with bailiffs. Bailiffs, also known as debt collectors or enforcement agents, are authorised to collect debts on behalf of creditors, but must follow certain rules and procedures when doing so. You have the right to ask a bailiff to leave at any time, and they are not allowed to use physical force or threats against you.
It is also worth considering seeking legal advice if you are having difficulty dealing with bailiffs, as a legal professional can help you understand your rights and options, and may be able to negotiate with the bailiffs on your behalf. It is important to remember that while you have rights when it comes to dealing with bailiffs, you still have a responsibility to pay any debts that are owed.
With over three decades of experience in the business and turnaround sector, Steve Jones is one of the founders of Business Insolvency Helpline. With specialist knowledge of Insolvency, Liquidations, Administration, Pre-packs, CVA, MVL, Restructuring Advice and Company investment.