Court bailiffs, or enforcement agents, have the legal authority to collect money. Even so, bailiffs have wide-ranging, but limited powers if they make a visit to your home or business.
So, what exactly is a bailiff?
Besides trying to collect money from people who owe debt, bailiffs also carry out other court duties. In doing so, they may visit your home or business premises. But, an adult would need to give permission to a bailiff for them to ‘legally’ enter the property (between the hours of 6 am and 9 pm).
The purpose of entering the property is to assess what goods you may have that they can ultimately seize. The next step would be to take away personal belongings of value and try to sell them at an auction to recover monies owed.
An ‘enforcement agent’ is another name that describes the powers of a bailiff. This is because a court can appoint them to enforce any judgment laid down by the various judicial systems. In most cases, a court will order the debtor to pay back the money owing to another person or organisation.
You might be wondering:
In fact, the term ‘enforcement agent’ is a relatively new description recognised by all courts. It describes their main role of enforcing the judgment that someone owes money. The court may use enforcement agents to enforce the law in relation to collecting what you owe to your debtor.
Duties of a Court Bailiff
The main role of a bailiff is to collect money. Even so, bailiffs may also visit people at home for other reasons (e.g. to serve court documents or to hand out notices and summons).
As a last resort, the use of a bailiff is to visit your house to begin the process of obtaining the money that you owe. In most cases, this means a payment of some sorts (usually cash). But, it can also include the seizing of your goods to sell off in the hope of recovering a debt that you owe.
Here’s how it works:
All bailiffs (enforcement agents) must follow national Government Codes of Practice when they attempt to seize goods. This particular code came into practice in April 2014 in United Kingdom.
County Court Bailiff (Enforcement Agent)
A County Court can employ bailiffs to collect certain types of debts (e.g. county court judgments ‘CCJ’ or small fines). They get a salary from the court which means they are generally easier to deal with. So, the court would not pay a County Court bailiff on results.
The various courts (magistrate, crown, or higher) can instruct certified bailiffs to collect or obtain debts owed according to the decision or judgment the court reaches. Thus, certified bailiffs are often organisations such as companies who employ a number of bailiffs, or hire private bailiffs.
Private Bailiff (Enforcement Agent)
Most private bailiffs will be self-employed or running a ‘one-person’ company. Once hired, they would get paid commission on results. In most cases, they also receive a fee for each visit made during the process of obtaining payment from a debtor.
By contrast, a debt collector is NOT a bailiff and does not have the right to seize goods for sale.
There are many differences between debt collector powers and those of a court bailiff. Debt collectors do not possess the same legal authority as bailiffs (even though some pretend to have it).
Despite their legal powers, all bailiffs need to follow the rules and methods of money collection as laid down by law.
The government lays down certain criteria on the conduct laws that bailiffs must comply with. Since the change in the rules, they can no longer enter your home by smashing down the front door or use any other willful act of vandalism. As a result, bailiffs must act in a proper and legal manner.
Bailiffs Bullying Tactics
In the past, some unscrupulous bailiffs used bullying techniques in an attempt to prompt a payment. But, the new rules on bailiffs powers aim to control typical harassment tactics (e.g. taking items from a home without the authority to do so).
The restrictive rules have changed in favour of the creditor. But, bailiffs still have the main responsibility recognized and encouraged by the legal process (to recover money owed by a creditor). In brief, a bailiff has to use more acceptable methods while collecting debt from people and organisations.
A private person, or company, cannot simply employ a bailiff to collect arrears owing. The bailiff would make a visit only after the issuance of an enforcement order granted by the court. There are other ways to collect debt without using a bailiff.
As a debtor, you also have rights about how the procedure should be conducted. But if you prolong it, and do not reach an agreement with the bailiff, you may be liable to extra, and increasing, costs.
But, here’s the kicker:
Bailiffs do not perform their work for free. The use of ‘delaying’ tactics can considerably add to the total amount of a debt. The court can add a cost to the original amount owed for having to use enforcement agents.
What Powers Do Bailiffs Have When They Visit?
As we now know, court bailiffs have wide-ranging powers when they visit your home or business, but so do you! It helps to understand what a bailiff can get away with if they knock on your door. So, let’s look at what bailiffs can, cannot, and must not, do.
If you have to deal with a bailiff knocking on the door, the first thing you need to do is to make sure they are genuine.
You should ensure the person is actually a court bailiff and not simply a debt collector.
The role of a debt collector does not allow them to pretend to be a bailiff. Doing so would be committing a fraud. In short, debt collectors have no greater power or authority than the person who is using them.
A court may send a bailiff to enforce a debt judgement awarded to a creditor. In this case, owing money means the court would instruct bailiffs to enforce the judgement.
Even so, there are rules in place to ensure the bailiff acts in a responsible manner. The days of a bailiff smashing down your front door are long since gone.
Bailiff in Pursuit of Money you owe
Let’s assume that a bailiff is in pursuit of money that you owe. Sometimes, a bailiff visits to serve you with court documents, or give you a summons to attend court (e.g. if you ignore a previous summons). In fact, that event would take place with the handing over of the document or some form of hand delivery.
Bailiffs, or enforcement agents, must conduct their business according to the law. It is not all one-sided however, and there are a few things you can do to make their job more difficult.
But, here’s the brutal truth about that:
It is not advisable, for they will eventually get their way. So, all you would be doing is delaying the debt collection process!
Court proceedings must exist for an enforcement bailiff to act. That means the court adjudged you as owing a sum of money to a person, organisation, or a company. They will have received ‘judgement’ against you in a court. It can also include any unpaid council tax or court fines.
The same outcome applies to any unpaid fines (e.g. parking penalties). If it is a ‘criminal’ debt, such as a fine for a criminal offence, you could be arrested. The police CANNOT arrest you for a civil debt.
Here’s how it works:
Before a bailiff can make a visit, they have to send you an Notice of Enforcement, issued by the court in question. This would be a County Court or the High Court for civil debts.
You must receive the notice at least seven (7) days prior to the first visit from a bailiff. Once a bailiff has visited you the first time, they do not have to send you notification for any follow ups.
Notice of Enforcement
The Enforcement Notice must contain all the relevant information on the claim made against you (received a minimum of 7 days before the bailiff arrives). The bailiff must also sign the notice.
The 7 days does not include the day of issuance, nor the actual day of the visit. Neither does it include Sundays, normal bank holidays, Christmas Day, or Good Friday.
So, issuing the notice on a Monday of a normal week means the days that count would be Tuesday (1), Wednesday (2), Thursday (3), Friday (4), Saturday (5), (NOT SUNDAY), Monday (6), and the following Tuesday (7). On that basis, the bailiff can make the first visit on day eight (the following Wednesday).
The court can send a Notice of Enforcement to you in writing via post or by hand delivery. They can also send it by Fax or by email. If you do not have a visible mailbox, they can affix the notice to your home or business. In some cases, they will hand over the Enforcement Notice in person.
Note: You would get the full clear seven days as outlined above no matter which means of serving the notice they use.
Carefully check the Notice of Enforcement. It will have a lot of information regarding:
Your case details, the amount of debt, and who you owe it to.
The name of the bailiff company, their contact details, and the fees charged by the bailiffs (before and after their action).
How to prevent the bailiff visiting you at home (usually means making some form of payment).
When the Bailiff Arrives
If we assume the bailiff followed the correct steps, and you did not take any steps to avoid the bailiff’s action, you should expect to receive a visit shortly after the seven allowed days from receipt of the notice.
Even so, bailiffs are busy people so it could take a little longer to receive the first visit. Bailiffs can take up to 12 months from the date of the notice to make a visit and start retrieval action.
The most important point for debtors is ensuring that the person who visits is in fact a bailiff and not a regular debt collector. The powers of debt collectors have set limits, being mostly of ‘persuasion’.
The bailiff (enforcement agent) will carry certification as a means of identification authority. Make sure you see it and understand it before engaging in a conversation with them.
DO NOT let a bailiff into your home until you are certain of their authority. Bailiffs CANNOT force their way into your home and can only enter by normal entry points (ones that you use for access to your own home).
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