If you owe money, one of the ways your creditors might try to get their money back is by using bailiffs. The role of the bailiffs is to take your goods away and sell them to raise money to pay your creditors.
As a charity that supports vulnerable people in debt we frequently have to deal with bailiffs and have recently experienced an increase in the number of clients contacting us for advice on bailiff related matters. Our clients usually call when they have had a nasty visit and/or letter from the bailiff company demanding money and informing them that they will enter the property to seize goods to settle the outstanding amounts. This often leaves vulnerable households worried, under extreme pressure and at risk of taking drastic action such as taking out pay day loans. A lot of our clients are unaware of the powers these bailiffs actually have and cannot see beyond their aggressive and threatening behaviour.
We always advise our clients they do not have to open the door to the bailiffs and that they must ensure they keep their doors and windows securely locked. Although in most circumstances bailiffs are not allowed to force their way in to a property they are however allowed to enter via peaceful means, such as climbing through an open window. Bailiffs can however force entry to your property and seize your goods without notice if they have already gained entry once via peaceful means. This means that you must take care to ensure that you don’t allow them entry under any circumstances.
Once they gain entry they can place walk in possession orders on goods belonging to the debtor, which they can then auction off if the debt remains unpaid. If a bailiff gains entry to a property their charges immediately go up. Yet goods sell at bailiff auctions for derisory sums. This means that ultimately if bailiffs seize goods it is highly unlikely the prices goods fetch will cover the enforcement costs, let alone the original debt.
To this extent, in the 21st century the whole idea of seizure of goods is a legal fiction for if it actually happens as statute lays down, everyone including the bailiffs and their creditors will be out of pocket and the debt will not be paid off. Bailiffs are therefore used simply as a threat to try and intimidate you into paying your debts
Fortunately there are rules and policies about how bailiffs should behave. They are not allowed to threaten you or pretend to have more legal powers than they really have. They must take special care when dealing with people who are considered vulnerable, for example if you’re elderly, disabled, seriously ill or find it difficult to speak, understand or read English. The National Standards for Enforcement Agents also require bailiffs discovering a vulnerable situation should report the matter back to the creditor. The better bailiff companies are doing this and creditors need to build this into the controls they exercise over debt recovery. If you find bailiffs breaking any of these rules you may have grounds for a civil case against them and should report it immediately.
For more advice on dealing with Bailiffs see the Citizens Advice Bureau guide here.