There aren’t many moments in life as stressful as receiving a visit from bailiffs, especially if you aren’t fully aware of your rights. That can make dealing with bailiffs even more challenging. Of course, bailiffs indeed have some rights in a position where they are entering a premise and taking goods, but if you know exactly what can be done to stop them, you’ll be covered in terms of everything legal and you’ll be more confident in the situation.
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.
The difference between a High Court Enforcement Officer and a debt collector?
Enforcement agents have to be fully certified with a Bailiff General Certificate from the County Court, if not, they can only attempt to collect a debt when they are with someone who is certified. Knowing the difference between HCEOs and standard debt collectors is crucial, as they have different powers and can enforce entirely different things.
Debt collections made by HCEOs are on behalf of the courts because they are also appointed by them. They can collect a variety of debts, such as CCJs, VAT income tax, court fees, unpaid council tax and national insurance. That is the majority of what they’ll normally collect, though it can contain more in certain situations.
On the other hand, debt collectors will always be employed by private companies, that is the policy they abide by. The key 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 first gaining consent, whereas an HCEO does have such powers and therefore doesn’t need your consent when acting on behalf of the Magistrates Court.
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 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.
If you’re receiving a visit from bailiffs, you have every right to not talk to them or let them into your home. You should ensure that you find out who is visiting you and what the reasons for their visitation are. Don’t be afraid to ask them for identification and who they’re working on behalf of. Only High Court Enforcement Officers can gain entry into your premises, so be aware that different rules apply to commercial and residential properties.
How Business Insolvency Helpline can help you
If you find yourself concerned about bailiffs visiting you, either at home or on your business’ premises, it is vital that you fully understand your rights. Therefore, here at Business Insolvency Helpline, we aim to advise you on the best and most efficient ways of dealing with bailiffs. Though, we won’t stop there, we’ll also attempt to track the root of any the problems causing the bailiff visits and stop the issue at its source.”