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|| Bailiffs - do they have the right to enter my home?
Answering your door to find a bailiff stood on your doorstep can be a distressing and frightening experience, particularly since few people know what powers bailiffs actually have to enter your home and seize your belongings.
And this is of course something that unscrupulous bailiffs will use to their advantage.
A bailiff is simply someone employed by a creditor to collect debts owed to them and who may seize your goods as a form of payment.
A bailiff has certain powers that he or she can use when collecting a debt or seizing goods, but will normally require the permission of a court to exercise them.
In England and Wales, a Magistrates Court will grant permission for the use of bailiffs for debts such as Council Tax or fines whereas the County or Civil Court will issue warrants in relation to unsecured, consumer debts.
The first thing to note is that a bailiff cannot force his way into your home.
He or she cannot break down your door or even push past you if you open the door. And a bailiff can not leave his or her foot in the door to prevent you from closing it. All are examples of "forced entry" and would render the whole process illegal.
The exceptions to this are when bailiffs are trying to recover money you owe to HM Revenue & Customs or are trying to recover unpaid Magistrates' Court fines. In the latter case, bailiffs have the power to force entry. In the former case, bailiffs are allowed to break into your home providing they have a magistrates' warrant to do so.
If you are behind with your rent or mortgage payments, your landlord or mortgage lender may get a County Court possession order to evict you. In this situation, the bailiffs are also allowed to break into your home.
In all other instances a bailiff cannot force his or her way into your home.
You are therefore within your rights to refuse to let a bailiff into your home. Do this politely, but firmly.
You do not even have to open the door to a bailiff and if there are no other witnesses present it is often a good idea to communicate with them through the letterbox or an upstairs window.
A bailiff has the right to come into your home through a door if it is open or unlocked. A bailiff can also come into your home through an open window, but not through one that is closed (whether locked or not).
It is therefore a good idea to ensure that all external doors are kept locked and all windows kept closed should you be expecting a visit from a bailiff.
A bailiff can also gain entry to your home if you allow them to enter. Tricks of the trade to gain entry include asking to use your phone to check information or to use your toilet. They may also ask to talk in private rather than in public.
If you refuse entry to a bailiff bear in mind that they are likely to return and the fees and expenses for each extra visit will be added to the debt you owe.
This though should not be a reason for allowing a bailiff to enter your home if you do not want him or her to enter. Instead, you can offer to pay part or all of the debt there and then. If the bailiff accepts your offer, ask them to return to their car and go out and pay them. Always get a receipt for any payments you make.
If a bailiff has never gained access to your home and will not accept any offer you make with regards to payment, all they can do is attempt to gain entry at a later date and eventually report back to the creditor.
Once a bailiff has gained legal entry to your home, he or she has the right to return and can use force to gain entry on any subsequent visit. Hence the importance of refusing to allow a bailiff to enter your home on their first visit.
If you refuse entry to a bailiff you will not face any punishment and certainly not imprisonment.
In the UK, we no longer send people to jail for non-payment of debts except in cases of fraud or where you wilfully choose not to pay rather than cannot pay certain types of debt such as Court fines, Council Tax or maintenance for your spouse or children.
The police may accompany a bailiff on a visit, but they will only do so to prevent a breach of the peace. It doesn't mean that you have to allow the bailiff into your home.
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Please note the contents of this website are for information purposes only and do not constitute financial advice.
Please seek independent professional advice before taking action that may affect your financial well-being.