What to do if the bailiffs are on your doorstep?
Written by Chelsea Potter on 27 September 2016
One of the biggest fears people have when they’re in debt is what happens if the bailiffs come? Bailiffs have been part of scaremongering myths for years so it’s easy to understand why people might assume bailiffs can just turn up at your door and take everything inside your home. This is certainly not the case, bailiffs have to follow a specific procedure including giving you advance warning that they are coming to your home.
Are the bailiffs coming?
A bailiff – or enforcement agent – will only visit your home after you’ve been informed by letter that bailiffs may call. The trouble is that many people in debt stop opening letters from creditors and so it can be a frightening shock when the doorbell rings.
It’s also really important to know that a debt collector is not a bailiff. While bailiffs may have powers to enter your home, a debt collector does not – so don’t let them pressure you into letting them in.
What can they do?
If the person at your door is actually a bailiff then what can they do? Well, most importantly, here’s what they can’t do. They can’t enter your home by force, for example by pushing past you, except in extreme circumstances. They can’t enter your home if there are children (under 16) or vulnerable people, like a disabled person, only in the home. They can’t enter your home at night, which counts as between 9pm and 6am. And they can’t enter your home through anything except a door – so don’t worry about them climbing through the window.
But what they can do includes stay in your home as long as they need to once they are in. They can force entry if they have a warrant – just not usually force past you. On the first visit they will decide which of your belongings they intend to seize, which they will list. Once they have official control of them, you can’t sell them yourself.
If someone in your household lets them in then they can carry out their work even if you then ask them to leave or prove that you are a vulnerable person.
Can I stop them?
If you receive notification that a bailiff is coming then you need to act fast. Get in touch with the creditor (you’ll need to double check if they are still your creditor, they may have sold the debt) and attempt to negotiate a repayment plan. If you aren’t confident that you could negotiate with a creditor on your own then see the next tip – get some help.
Unless a bailiff has a warrant to force entry then you can refuse to let them in – in most circumstances they cannot force their way past you. But even if you stop them gaining entry, the problem won’t go away. You’ll need to take action or they will simply come back; don’t stick your head in the sand on this one.
Our advice is free, informed and completely without judgement. We have plenty of experience helping people just like you, and we will do our best to get your debts onto a manageable path so that you’re free of the worries and the bailiffs stay away.
Get some help
When can a bailiff come to my home?
It is important to note that bailiffs differ from debt collectors. A debt collector can come to your home to query about your debt at any time but they have no rights – you don’t have to let them in and they also have no rights to take anything from your property. A bailiff however is someone employed by the courts to collect certain types of debt – this might include county court judgements (CCJ’s), parking fines, child maintenance arrears or tax arrears. In order for a bailiff to visit your home you must have received a final demand from your creditor and a 7 day notice that bailiffs will be visiting your property.
Do I have to let a bailiff in?
You don’t have to let a bailiff in but there are situations where if you refuse to let them in they are allowed to use force for entry. A bailiff can’t push past you to get in the property, nor can they break your windows but if they have been granted a right to force entry they are allowed to break a door lock or remove a lock on a gate. Bailiffs have restrictions on the hours they can access your property and they can only step inside the property through normal entrances – e.g they can’t climb through a window.
What do I do when they turn up on my doorstep?
Firstly check they are actually bailiffs and not debt collectors. You can ask for their ID and proof of authorisation. Remember you must have had notice of them coming. Don’t let them in, talk to them through the letterbox until you’ve established their rights.
If you do open the door, block the bailiff’s entrance and refuse to let them into your home. You could try and negotiate a payment arrangement or offer them some form of payment if you can afford to do so – always ask for a receipt however and make the payment outside of the house. If you can’t afford to pay ask them to leave and say you will contact your creditor to arrange payment, though you will still have to pay the bailiff’s charges.
If bailiffs do manage to enter your home, whether you let them in or they use their right to force they may take some of your belongings. Bailiffs can only take your belongings but you must prove the other items don’t belong to you. They can’t take anything you need like white goods or clothing nor can they take work equipment.
Can I prevent bailiffs coming?
Once you receive notice that bailiffs are attending your property it is advised you contact your creditor immediately and explain your situation. You must also contact the bailiff to let them know. Co-operate and come to an agreement, and that should prevent bailiffs visiting. You will need to keep to your arrangement however – if you can’t afford to make your agreed payment you should contact your creditor and explain.
If you are worried about bailiffs coming and struggling to manage your finances, we can help. PayPlan offer free debt advice on a wide range of debt solutions so if you are falling into arrears we can look at what options might be available to you.
If your debt problem has become so bad that the bailiffs are calling then you need some help and advice. You can seek out help from charities like Citizens Advice or you can ring our free debt advisers on 0800 280 2816.
Filed under Living in Debt