The use of bailiffs was suspended on 26th March, giving those in debt a respite from the threat of a bailiff calling at their door. However, the suspension has now been lifted, meaning local authorities in England and Wales can once again use bailiffs to collect outstanding debts.
When you receive a visit from a bailiff, it is vitally important that you know your rights and, more importantly, know what they can and cannot do. At present, bailiffs also have to observe some additional rules, due to Covid-19, and some of these can be beneficial to you. Here’s the key points you need to be aware of:
What can bailiffs be used for?
Councils, courts, and other authorities use bailiffs to enforce overdue payments for council tax, business rates, parking/traffic penalties and magistrates’ fines. At present, they can only use bailiffs to collect overdue payments if they have exhausted all other avenues for collecting the debt and if the debt was incurred before the Covid-19 pandemic.
The rules on bailiffs entering your home
Before turning up at your home, a bailiff must provide you with a 7 day enforcement notice.
Bailiffs have the right to force entry into your home when they are collecting criminal fines (such as fixed penalty charges), or tax debts owed to HMRC, if the court has granted such power.
In ALL other circumstances, a bailiff has absolutely no right to enter your home unless you invite them in. This means they cannot force their way in, and they cannot invite themselves in via an open window or door.
A bailiff also cannot enter your home between the hours of 9pm and 6am, or if the only occupants at the premises are under 16 years of age, or are vulnerable (i.e. someone with a disability).
What bailiffs can and cannot take from your home
If you let a bailiff into your home, they may take luxury items to sell (such as a TV or games console).
However, a bailiff cannot take everyday essentials such as clothing and cooking equipment, and cannot take any work tools (such as work computers and tools), that together are worth less than £1350. Bailiffs also cannot take possession of goods that do not belong to you.
Outside your home
Whilst bailiffs generally cannot enter your home without your consent, they can freely enter your land and remove any goods (such as vehicles) which belong to you.
Scotland’s equivalent sheriff officers are only carrying out urgent enforcement tasks at present, which do not include debt collection.
Additional Covid-19 rules
Bailiffs have been issued with additional rules they must observe whilst Covid-19 remains an issue. What are the new rules bailiffs must adhere to? In this respect, bailiffs must:
- Observe two-metre social distancing, or one-metre social distancing with masks or other risk mitigation items if two metres isn’t possible
- Terminate a visit if an individual tries to breach social distancing
- Avoid unduly raising their voice
- Make reasonable attempts to contact residential households to assess risk before visiting
- Ask upon arrival if anyone in the household is symptomatic or shielding, and terminate the visit if so
- Wear a face covering wherever possible whilst inside premises or vehicles
- Wear disposable gloves if likely to come into contact with objects such as doors and doorbells
The golden rule is when a bailiff comes knocking ‘Do not open the door’. Instead, speak to them through the letterbox and try to reach an agreement to pay over time. Also, ask the bailiff to show you: i) identification; and ii) court papers proving that they are authorised to attend your property.
If you believe that the bailiff is breaking any of the rules, contact the organisation that sent them (i.e. the local authority) and report them, clearly explaining what you think they have done wrong.
Remember, bailiffs must abide by a strict set of rules, must act professionally at all times, and must not bully or intimidate you.