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Bailiffs and the law

Common questions we get asked about bailiffs their powers

What are bailiffs not allowed to take?

Exempt goods and anything not belonging to the debtor. Items necessary in your employment, education or business to a maximum allowance of £1350 combined value. Items necessary to the basic needs of the debtor and his family, such as a chair, bed, bed linen, washing and cooking equipment, non-movable items, heating, telephone. Here is the definitive list of exempt goods prescribed by law and how to apply to the court to recover exempt goods from bailiffs.

Can bailiffs remove goods in your absence?

Yes. Provided the debtor has been given a Notice of Enforcement. Bailiffs cannot Break and Enter using a locksmith to a domestic property unless the money is owed to HMRC. Here is how to secure your home from bailiffs.

Can a bailiff enter my house?

Yes, provided he does not use force, or apply force to a door or a person. Bailiffs can enter an unlocked door. Bailiffs cannot enter a locked door. Bailiffs can enter a door with the key in the lock by turning the key. Bailiffs cannot enter a locked door if he finds the key under the mat.

Can bailiffs take my belongings for someone else debt?

No. The law says the bailiff may only take goods belonging to the debtor. An owner of goods taken can make an interpleader claim.

Can bailiffs take my car if it’s not in my name?

Yes. The vehicle registered keeper is not the owner. Bailiffs may only take the debtor’s goods. Presently, the DVLA do not record the name of the owner of a vehicle, only the name of the person responsible for its use on the road. Unlike Europe and the United States, vehicles in the UK do not have a “title document”. The owner of the car taken can make an interpleader claim.

Can bailiffs take my car if it’s on finance or hire purchase or PCP?

No. The hirer does not own the car until the final payment has been made. Bailiffs may only take goods belonging to the debtor. If your finance car is clamped by bailiffs, you can apply to the court for an injunction.

What time can bailiffs come to your house?

The law says bailiffs can take control of the debtor’s goods between 6am and 9pm on any day of the week, except public holidays. Enforcement regulations have a provision for bailiffs to apply to a court for permission to take enforcement action outside these hours if he can show good reason, but this is rarely exercised.

How much do bailiffs earn?

£90 for each case they achieve “payment in full” (or ‘PIF’ in bailiff-speak) based on the statutory £310 staged fees recovering traffic debts, council tax and court fines. Official records (https://tinyurl.com/ydhwofhb) show that less than 30% of cases instructed to bailiffs result in PIF. A court fines and traffic debts bailiff attends about 60 cases a month on a good month, so if he achieves PIF on 30% of them making £90 a case, he earns £1620 before tax a month. This is an optimistic month because of the number of cases the bailiff receives, and he must achieve a 30% success rate. A council tax bailiff earns much less, closer to £1200 a month. A bailiff working in High Court Enforcement will have fewer cases spread out all over England and Wales giving high travel costs, but earns higher income per case due to the fee structure, but the commercial risks are astronomical. Out of thirty successful cases completed, a bailiff only needs one case to “go legal” and he stands to lose all that income due to high costs of litigation and his defence legal fees. Court fines recovery is the lowest class of debtor a bailiff will encounter, if they are drug dealers, violent or in prison. High Court writs are the easiest debtors because they are middle class and generally non-violent and are able to pay, but writs have the highest litigation risk of all the debt streams.

Can bailiffs take my children’s TV?

No. The law says the bailiff may not take control of goods of a debt who is “not a child”. The law further states the bailiff may only enter if the debtor is “not a child”. Paragraph 23(2) (https://tinyurl.com/yd9epc5j) of Schedule 12 of the Tribunals Courts and Enforcement Act 2007.

Can bailiffs take my TV?

Yes. But in reality, bailiffs are not interested in taking household knick-knacks because they have no material value. The concept of taking a debtors goods pre-date Victorian times when household furniture had a monetary value. Today, government websites and other government funded “debt-charity” websites and state-sponsored advice guides work to an agenda which plays on the prospect of a “forced entry” to instil fear on debtors to pay up or face the prospect of being confronted by a complete stranger threatening to ransack their home. The reality is that household TVs have little or no auction value, and by unplugging them and moving them to the middle of the living room, is only to coerce payment, even if the victim is not the debtor.

Do police help bailiffs?

Yes, only if the bailiff is executing a warrant of possession evicting squatters. Not if the bailiff is executing an order to recover a sum of money. Police officially say they are there to “prevent a breach of the peace”, but if the bailiff commits a crime, the police say it is a civil matter. You can still bring an action against the police for breach of statutory duty which is crime prevention apprehending suspects and reporting them to the Crown Prosecution Service. Bailiffs are classroom-trained to call police if difficult circumstances are encountered, and trained to appear to debtors the bailiffs are pally with the police. Some bailiffs offer a police officer a masonic handshake (https://tinyurl.com/yda6hbqe) to make it appear to the attending officers the bailiff is a fellow Freemason. Freemasonry is common among male police officers for attracting favourable treatment from their superiors in particular, promotion through the ranks.

Can bailiffs force entry for council tax debt?

No. Council tax is enforced with a Liability Order which only confers a power to take control of goods and sell them to pay the debt. It does not confer a power to enter property unless he is allowed in by the occupant.

Why do bailiffs leave a red final notice in the communal doorway?

When a bailiff is not sure where the debtor lives, he searches online and goes to addresses he thinks the debtor is living and leaves a “final notice” addressed to the debtor. It is to see if anyone calls the bailiffs mobile number on the notice and that confirms the debtor is living there. It is a form of Phishing.

Can bailiffs take pets?

No. The law classes “domestic pets” as “exempt goods” under regulation 4(1)(c) of the Taking Control of Goods Regulations 2013. Bailiffs can take control of commercial livestock but regulations on their care are very strict.

Can a bailiff arrest me?

No. Bailiffs companies collecting unpaid court fines like to use police-like terminology and words like arrest warrants sound more threatening to debtors than a no bail warrant. Bailiffs are enforcement agents, and have no powers of arrest, and neither do police community support officers (PCSO). Only a constable can make an arrest under a warrant or when he believes a crime may be committed or has been committed. A bailiff does not have authority to arrest, detain or transport prisoners. When a bailiff says he as an “arrest warrant” he has a no bail warrant which does not carry a power of arrest. In 2014, a bailiff company tried arresting debtors in a trial scheme, but a bailiff trying to arrest a debtor was bopped, and the debtor was later cleared of wrongdoing because he acted in lawful self-defence.

Can a bailiff refuse a payment plan?

Yes. Bailiffs have no statutory obligation to agree a repayment plan or set up a Controlled Goods Agreement. The option is discretionary and provided with a list of other options open to bailiffs under Provision 13(1) (https://tinyurl.com/yakpxery) of Schedule 12 of the Tribunals Courts and Enforcement Act 2007. Guidelines provide for a repayment plan if the bailiff knows he is otherwise unable to take control of goods or gain entry to the debtor’s property. It is usually the last option because it involves the most amount of work for the bailiff which he does not receive any extra remuneration.

I’m about to go bankrupt, and I have bailiffs making demands

When you are made bankrupt while having bailiff action taken against you, the Official Receiver (OR) will send you a PIQB form, a Preliminary Information Questionnaire for Bankruptcy to complete. You must add all debts being enforced by bailiffs and they will be managed by the OR and stop bailiffs from contacting you. Those debts will most probably be written off. Bailiffs cannot take control of your goods, and any goods already taken but not yet sold, will have to be ceded to the OR as they now under the administration of the trustee in bankruptcy.

Can an Individual Voluntary

Arrangement (IVA) stop bailiffs?

Yes, but with the exception of unpaid court fines, student loans and child support. All other debts, such as parking tickets, council tax, and high court writs can be paid off using an IVA (https://tinyurl.com/ydaj83xa) and the practitioner will contact the bailiffs to stop the action.

Does a Debt Relief Order (DRO) stop bailiffs?

Yes, but only when the DRO has been made by the official receiver, which can take around six weeks. Until then, you must protect your home from bailiffs. A DRO does not stop the enforcement of court fines, child support and student loans. If you do not have assets to seize then you cannot pay them and there is no legislation enabling the creditor to write them off, so they may lapse under the Limitation Act 1978.

How long before a debt is written off?

Legally six years under section 9 of the Limitation Act 1980, but after bailiffs have tried to recover the debt without success, spending more money on enforcement is untenable so the debt remains a “bad debt” or a “toxic debt” because the cost of enforcement exceeds the value of the debt itself.

What debts can bailiffs collect?

Council tax, Business Rates, Traffic debts, Magistrates’ Court fines, county court judgments, Child Support, High Court writs, unpaid commercial rent, unpaid domestic rent, taxes owed to HMRC.

Do bailiffs need a signed warrant with a “wet-ink” signature?

No. The enforcement power, whether it is a liability order, a warrant of control or a High Court writ, does not need to be signed with a wet-ink signature of a judge. The bailiff’s enforcement certificate which carries his photo ID is wet-Ink signed by a Circuit Judge and bailiffs must carry it when he is working and must show it on demand of the debtor or any person in authority of the property being attended. Paragraph 26 (https://tinyurl.com/y73q8aet) of Schedule 12 of the Tribunals Courts and Enforcement Act 2007.

Can a bailiff take my belongings if I am abroad?

No. Bailiffs can only operate in England and Wales. The law further states the debtor must be given a Notice of Enforcement and if that notice was posted to your UK address while you are abroad, then the law says the notice has not been given or “served” because evidence that you are abroad is grounds that you have not been given that notice. Section 7 (https://tinyurl.com/ya8mmmgt) of the Interpretation Act 1978.

Part 2 of Questions about bailiffs will feature in the next edition.

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