According to research from the Money Advice Trust, there has been a 16% increase in Bailiff visits across England and Wales over the last two year- 2 million visits in the last year alone. Tough new laws are now in place to check abuse of power by bailiffs, as the number and nature of complaints received by Citizens Advice began to paint a worrying picture for people across UK.
However, responsibility still rests with the debtor to be well aware of their rights and provisions in the Tribunals, Courts & Enforcement Act 2007, which every bailiff action must comply with.
If your bailiff action began before 6 April 2014, these rules do not apply to your case. To understand your rights, it is ideal to start by knowing what Bailiffs ‘cannot’ legally do any longer while taking action.
1. Notice of action: you must be provided with 7 days prior notice of their first visit, and this notice will be preceded by a final warning that bailiff or court action will be taken against you. If you have not received these notices in the post, you can politely inform the Bailiff or ask them to contact the advisors.
2. Entering your home: Bailiffs can no longer visit your premises between 9.00 pm and 6.00 am and cannot enter the house under any circumstances if only a child (under 16) or a vulnerable person (including a single parent/elderly/disabled/seriously ill) is present. They also cannot use force or rush past you in order to enter through the door, nor can they climb walls or jump through windows in an attempt to enter your home.
Bailiffs can enter your premises through a back door, garage or shed if they are left unlocked, and under very rare circumstances, Court order may permit them to force a door or gate open, cut through a padlock and chain or even break down a vehicle barrier.
Remember: under no other circumstances (with exceptions) can they use brute force or gain illegal entry into your house, even if all prior notices have been served and received.
3. Seizing your belongings: bailiff’s do not have permission to seize property belonging to someone else, including your spouse/partner, children, lodgers unless they are jointly owned by both.
This also includes items you need for work or study such as tools, books or computer equipment up to the value of £1,350; items you need for basic domestic needs, goods you are currently hiring for use yourself, goods which also act as your home such as a houseboat, static caravan, campervan or tent, a vehicle parked on private land that is not your home or even a vehicle carrying a blue badge.
Do remember Bailiff’s have to follow a due procedure in order to seize a vehicle that belongs to you.
4. Value of belonging seized: Bailiffs cannot take any belongings whose combined value is worth more than the debt you owe. In case the bailiffs seize goods which are worth more than your debt, you should complain and ask for some to be returned to you (you will have legal options to reclaim your belongings).
However, the bailiffs can seize a high-value item, such as a car, if there is nothing else available or insufficient to cover your entire debt repayable.
5. Charges for Bailiff action: If you have agreed and allowed bailiffs to be summoned to you, you must pay the following additional fees:
Fixed fees (if you owe less than £1,500):
· £75 when the case is sent to bailiffs
· £235 if their letter is ignored and they have to visit you
· £110 if they have to take your goods and sell them at an auction
· Additional action fees (storing goods/using locksmith)
If you owe more than £1,500 you have to pay a percentage of your debt each time the bailiffs visit your home.
6. Debt they can chase: Not all forms of debt can a creditor summon bailiffs to recover them. The law clearly states that bailiffs can only be summoned for:
· Council Tax Arrears
· Parking Fine
· Court Fine
· County Court Judgement (CCJ) (can be suspended by court)
· Family Court Judgement (FCJ)
· High Court Judgement
· Magistrates' Court Fine
· Child Support
· Compensation Order
· Income Tax, National Insurance and VAT
· Business Rent
If you have reason to believe the bailiff’s have broken the law, for example if they threaten or harass you, gain entry forcefully or illegally, fail to show the correct documents or arrive without prior notice, try to charge you incorrect fees or have seized the wrong goods.
You may be able to get a refund of fees or your goods returned if a bailiff has broken the rules, so make sure you keep a detailed record of the times and dates of any incidents that occur. It is also advisable to take quick action such as seeking help or advice as soon as you receive the notice. It is also common practice to speak with your creditor and negotiate any further action/agree on a new deal.
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