YOUR RIGHTS IN REGARD TO BAILIFFS
Having a visit from a Bailiff can be a frightening and daunting experience. However, you should not despair, as a Bailiff does not possess as many rights as you might think.
IF YOU RECEIVE A BAILIFF'S LETTER......
Firstly, you should be aware that bailiffs charge fees to come to your house and these will be added to your debt. It is therefore important that you do not ignore a Bailiff's letter. Here are some suggestions of what you should do:
Call the organisation you owe money to and ask them to take the debt back from the bailiffs - you can make an offer to pay them, whatever you can genuinely afford, but not more. When doing this you should consider very carefully how much you can afford to pay per week or month, taking account of all your other regular outgoings and your realistic income.
If there are any special reasons why they should make an exception for you (for example, you have just been made redundant, or have recently split with your partner), make sure you tell them.
- Write a letter to the organisation you owe money to - If you do not think you do owe any of the money being claimed, or if somebody else is also liable for the monies owed, tell them straight away in writing and send a copy of your letter to the bailiffs. Make sure that you keep a copy of your letter and any response that you receive.
- If your debt is with the council - in order to balance their budget, they will want you to clear your debt by the end of the financial year (31 March) - do your best to meet this date. Some councils have written policies telling you when they will pass debts to bailiffs, and when they will take them back (for example, because of a disability or recent bereavement). Ask your council if they have a policy like this. Many councils allow people on benefits to pay small weekly amounts to clear arrears.
- If you have a bank account - offer to pay by direct debit, but make sure you have enough in the account to pay off the debt at the time it is due. If you don't have a bank account, start making regular payments in cash, ensuring you have a signed receipt to keep a note of such payments made.
- If your debt is unpaid Council Tax or a fine - again speak to the council and ask for time to pay.
- If you are receiving Income Support or Income-based Jobseeker's Allowance - you may be able to ask for direct deductions to be made from your benefit. This can be done for council tax, mortgage, rent, and service charges arrears, as well as debts to gas, electricity and water suppliers. These deductions are taken at a fixed sum - at the time of writing, £3.25 a week. If it is Council Tax arrears, even if you don't want direct deductions from your benefit, you should be able to make small weekly installments. If the court has fined you or made a compensation order, direct deductions from your benefit can be made and would usually be a maximum of £5 a week.
- If the debt is a County Court Judgement - you can apply to your local court to stop the bailiffs by promising to pay in installments. Only offer what you can genuinely afford to pay every month. You can download the form from the website HMCS (details below). You will need to pay a fee unless you are on a very low income. Some people only have to pay some of the fee - ask the court how to apply for a discount. The same form can be used with a High Court Enforcement Officer. The courts cannot intervene to stop other bailiff warrants. However, if you are struggling to pay a fine, speak to the Fines Officer at the magistrates’ court.
IF A BAILIFF KNOCKS ON YOUR DOOR.....
Most bailiffs have no more power to come into your home uninvited than a stranger from the street. The only time a bailiff could have the right to use 'reasonable force' to get in to your home would be if they are collecting unpaid criminal fines.
Bailiffs collecting all other debts can only come in if they can do so without using force, that means they have been invited in or can gain entry through an open/unlocked door. This is called "gaining peaceful entry" and includes:
- being invited in by a responsible adult;
- jumping over a fence to get to your back door; or
- opening an unlocked door to come in.
It does not include:
- being asked in by a child;
- breaking windows, doors or locks; or
- pushing past people to get inside.
Even if bailiffs do manage to get in, they must leave if you ask them to. If they do not, they are breaking the law. If this happens call the Police.
If a bailiff comes to your house, keep calm and remember your rights. Communicate with them through a closed door or post a letter to them (out of the letter box) stating that you are taking professional advice and as such you have been advised not to allow them entry. Always make sure that you make it clear to the bailiff that you know your rights.
IMPORTANT POINTS TO REMEMBER................
- Don't let bailiffs in unless you don’t mind if they take your belongings to pay the debt - If the bailiff is there because of unpaid council tax or unpaid bills, the bailiff can only come in if you let them in, or if they have come in and claimed some of your belongings on an earlier visit and told you when they would come back to pick them up if you did not make payments - and you failed to make payments. If the bailiff is there to collect income tax or a criminal fine, he can, in certain circumstances, use ‘reasonable force’ to get in.
- The Police don’t chase debts - Debts aren’t usually a criminal matter which the Police deal with. Sometimes bailiffs suggest that the Police are on hand to help them break into your home to take your belongings, they aren’t. Don’t feel intimidated by them. The Police should only attend to prevent violence.
- Bailiffs cannot force entry into your house - if they do phone the Police immediately.
- Bailiffs should not be rude or offensive - It is never a good idea to get into more debt to pay an old bill. Do not resort to a ‘back street lender’, or one of those companies which say they don’t ask questions before lending. These sorts of lenders usually charge huge rates of interest, which will just increase the size of your debt. It is far better to get legitimate money advice and support – which you can get for free at your local advice agency.
- If you have debts from household bills - (such as phone, gas or electricity bills), you should tell the company if someone else is also responsible for them, even if they no longer live with you. A spouse can be held equally responsible for council tax arrears.
- Don’t feel you have to sort everything out yourself! - Your local advice agency can often get a better result for you because they know the law, and will not be intimidated by false threats.
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Whilst every effort is made to ensure that the legal information contained on “consumeruk” is accurate, it does not constitute legal advice tailored to your individual circumstances. If you act upon it, you acknowledge that you do so at your own risk. Neither the Proprietor nor Dean Dunham can assume responsibility and do not accept liability for any damage or loss which may arise as a result of your reliance upon it.
Last updated 14.07.2014