Being in a position where you have outstanding debts is no fun at all, but what makes it even worse is the risk that you will have to come into contact with either debt collectors or bailiffs. This can be an intimidating and frustrating experience for you, especially if you’re already dealing with the challenges that come from being in debt.
Here we’ll tell you everything you need to know about bailiffs and debt collectors, what they can and can’t do, and how you are best served when it comes to dealing with them if they come to your door.
The first important thing is to know the difference between them.
What Is a Debt Collector?
A debt collector is just what the name implies – they are an individual who your lender appoints to chase up the debt with you on their behalf. What usually happens is your lender will pass your debt on to a specialist debt collection agency, who will then appoint a debt collector to chase you up for the money that you owe. A debt collector has no legal power to enforce the collection of the debt that you owe – it’s essential that you know and understand this. Their legal powers extend to knock on your door, make you aware of the debt that you owe, and attempt to set up a payment plan with you that will allow you to begin the repayment of your debt.
They are not allowed, under any circumstances, to come into your property, threaten or intimidate you, or make any attempt to take your belongings to cover your debt.
What Is a Bailiff?
A bailiff is technically a debt collector (sometimes called an enforcement agent) with the legal justification for entering your home and taking certain items of your property to cover a debt you owe. They can only do this under very specific circumstances. However, they must have a court order specifically stating that this is within their power. A bailiff can enter your home and collect belongings if you elect to let them in. They can also take property from outside your home, such as your car, for example, if you do not let them in. They can also take a direct payment from you, but you must make sure that you get a receipt.
Bailiffs will generally be called indirectly by courts to collect debts regarding matters relating to unpaid tax bills, county court judgements against you, unpaid parking fines or similar.
A Conclusion of the Differences
So, in short, a debt collector has no legal justification for entering your home or taking possession of your property to cover your debts. On the other hand, a bailiff does have the legal right to do that – however, entering your property is still only done at your discretion, and they must have a court order that permits them to do so.
Can a Bailiff Force Their Way In?
Bailiffs are bound by strict rules regarding how they can interact with debtors, what property they can take, and when. For example, bailiffs are allowed to force their way into properties. Still, they can only do so when it’s to collect an unpaid criminal fine, stamp duty, or income tax – they can also only do so when all other reasonable measures have failed.
In any other circumstances, a bailiff has no right to enter your property through any means other than via the front door. They cannot push past you or force their way into your property. In addition, they cannot enter between 9 pm, and 6 am or if there are only children or vulnerable people, namely those with disabilities, present beside you in the home.
What Do You Do If a Debt Collector Arrives?
If you have found yourself in a situation where you have a debt collector at your door, be sure first and foremost to remain calm. They are legally not allowed to intimidate you or to force you into making a payment. They can’t take anything from you without your consent – so primarily, you must remain calm, then follow these simple steps.
1. Ask to See Identification
This is the most important thing. You must be clear on exactly who you are dealing with. The information you’re looking for involves the name of the person or people at your door, the name of the collections company they are there on behalf of, and a breakdown of the exact debt they are at your door to collect.
2. Decide whether or not to engage
This is where the choice is up to you as to what you do next. Consider your options. You cannot escape your debt, but that doesn’t mean you have to deal with debt collectors at your doorstep. Remember that you are perfectly within your rights to not engage with them. However, it makes sense to inform them that you will chase up a payment method with the debt collection company as soon as possible – keep your tone neutral and calm, and avoid any urge to be confrontational.
3. Discuss Your Payment Options
If you decide to open the door to them, you can discuss the nature of your debt and how you intend to pay it back. They want to be paid, and they don’t want a headache doing it, so if you’re reasonable and you’re willing to establish a payment plan you can afford, they are going to be receptive to it. Remember, though, that it’s always better to pay your creditor directly – don’t simply hand over money on your doorstep (unless it’s with a provider like Provident who specialise in doorstep lending). Be sure, wherever possible, to pay electronically, so there is a clear record of your payments, or get a signed receipt.
What Do You Do When a Bailiff Knocks?
A bailiff is simply a debt collector ultimately, so the process is the same in as much as the first thing you must do is remain as calm as possible when you are dealing with them. Remember that the bailiff is not there to intimidate you or to force you into anything. They are there to arrange payment on your debts and nothing more.
1. Ask to see their court order
As established, a bailiff must have a court order before they can chase your debt. So you should ask to see the details of the court order, which should include a specific amount that you owe and the name of the court that supplied the order. If they do not have one, you have no legal obligation to engage with them – with one exception! If a bailiff acts on behalf of the HRMC and collects debt related to your unpaid taxes or duties, they will not usually need a court order.
2. Did You Get Your Seven Days Notice?
Bailiffs, by law, must give you seven days notice that they are going to arrive. If you have not had your seven days notice, you do not need to engage with them. If you have had your seven days notice, you can preempt the bailiffs arriving by contacting your debtors and getting a payment plan established to begin paying back what you owe. If that’s not what you intend to do, you can simply keep your doors locked and make sure everyone in the house knows not to let anyone they don’t know in.
3. Check for Your Bailiff’s Identification
You should get all the details you can about the people you are dealing with. Your bailiff must be carrying some form of identification. This can take the form of an enforcement agent certificate, a badge, or an ID card. Ideally, you’re looking for matching photo identification that corresponds to the person standing in front of you. You should also ask the details about the debt they are collecting for, namely how much you owe and the details of the judgement that was made against you. You are within your rights to make the bailiffs wait outside while you make proper enquiries to determine if they are who they say they are. If they are claiming to be sent by the county court, for example, contact them – they should be able to confirm that they have sent bailiffs and give you the details of who they sent.
4. Get a Controlled Goods Agreement
The bailiffs will rarely attempt to take goods from your property the first time they visit you. They can, however, draft a controlled goods agreement. This is an agreement signed by both you and them, which states which items they will take if you do not pay the agreed debt. They can come into your home and take inventory of your possessions to estimate what they would take if necessary – so that means if you do not stick to the payment plan, they can come back and have legal justification to take those items.
What Can a Bailiff Actually Take From Your Home?
If a bailiff is going to take your possessions, they are limited regarding the items they can take. For example, a bailiff can take items deemed luxuries, such as your television, games consoles, stereo equipment, and the like.
They can NOT take items that are deemed essential to your survival. Things like your cooker, washing machine, fridge and freezer, or your clothes. It’s also illegal for them to take any items that do not belong to you. So, for example, they cannot take any items belonging to your partner unless they are named in the debt order, even if they are luxury items.
You must make yourself fully aware of what a bailiff’s powers and your rights are before you engage with them in any way.
Should You Video the Exchange?
Many bailiffs and debt collection agents have taken to wearing cameras on their person – this is so they can have a clear record of what was said and what happened. You can request a copy of this footage if you want to. It’s also a wise idea to record your own footage – you must, however, make sure that you clearly tell the bailiffs this is what you are doing. They should have no problem with it and can’t prevent you from doing it, but you must tell them that it’s what you’re doing.
Can You Stop Them From Coming?
It’s important to know that while you don’t have to open your door to debt collectors or bailiffs, the problem they represent, namely your outstanding debt, isn’t going to go away if you ignore it.
If you know bailiffs or debt collectors are coming, contact your lender and ask for a full breakdown of what you owe. With that, you can work with them to establish an achievable payment plan to start paying your debts back. Debt collection can be a difficult prospect for companies to manage, so they will almost always be reasonable when establishing a payment plan with you. They would rather be paid less and regularly than have you default on repayments that you can’t actually afford.
If there is a reason you have fallen behind on your debts, tell them – but it’s also important that you show a willingness to repay the debts. If you haven’t been able to afford your repayments, tell them why and tell them what you know you will be able to afford. It’s no guarantee, but they may take your earnest desire to repay in good stead.
Remember the Golden Rule of Debt Collection
No matter what you do and how you approach the situation, if you find yourself faced with debt collectors or bailiffs, ensure that you stay totally calm and collected in the way that you deal with them. Be positive that you’re completely familiar with both your rights and theirs and you will be able to negotiate the situation successfully.