Do bailiffs have any legal powers?

What is a bailiff?

If you owe money to somebody, they may try to collect the debt using a bailiff or debt collector.

When can bailiffs be used?

Bailiffs can be used when you owe debt to a person, (known as the creditor).

The creditor can make a claim to the County Court against you. The County Court can then issue a CCJ (County Court Judgement) detailing that you must repay this debt.

How to avoid being visited by bailiffs

There are ways that you can avoid being visited by bailiffs in the first place. If the debt that you owe is a CCJ (County Court Judgement) and the warrant of execution has been issued then you can fill in form N245 at your local County Court to try and stop the bailiffs visiting your home. Basically on the N245 form you make an offer to repay the debt, for instance in instalments. This needs to be an agreement that you can manage to keep, if accepted this suspends the warrant as long as you keep the payments up-to-date as agreed.

Do bailiffs have any legal powers and what are they?

Firstly, if your home is visited by a bailiff – you do not have to let them in. Once you let them in the first time, they are legally allowed to break in the next time they call.  A bailiff should, by law always give notice of their first visit.

They cannot force their way in on the first visit, but they can enter through an open window or an unlocked door. Forced entry includes:

  • Pushing past you once you have opened the door to them

  • Leaving their foot in the door to prevent you from closing it.

Actions like these would make the whole process illegal.

  • If you owe money to HMRC, bailiffs trying to recover this money are allowed to break in to your home on the proviso that they have a magistrates’ warrant.
  • If you have rent and mortgage arrears, your landlord or mortgage lender may get a County Court possession order to evict you. In this instance, the bailiffs are allowed to break into your home.
  • If you have unpaid magistrates’ court fines being recovered by bailiffs, they do have the power to force entry.
  • Bailiffs can take non-essential items such as a television or a car but they cannot take essentials such as clothing, fridges, trade tools etc.

It is possible to negotiate with a bailiff to try and pay some or all of your debt there and then; this would mean that they left without taking anything.

If your negotiation is accepted and any kind of payment is accepted, you must make sure you get a receipt. Again, only make an agreement that you are able to afford and keep up the payments on. This is known as a reasonable negotiation and the bailiff may or not accept.

Every extra visit from a bailiff means that the bailiff’s fees and expenses will be added on top of the existing debt you owe. Any fees which you do not agree with may be disputed.

Dealing with bailiffs is complicated and unpleasant but there is plenty of free, independent help and advice available if you have to deal with them at any time.