How to deal with bailiffs

If you have been contacted by a bailiff, we appreciate that you might be feeling worried. The bailiff debt collection process that you may have seen on some TV programmes might have given you some of those worries, but we’re here to set the record straight.

We’ve created a guide to dealing with bailiffs that will help give you the facts and hopefully help you feel less concerned. Here at Lowell, we are proud to support our customers in dealing with their debt and working together to help you become debt-free.

If you have a debt with Lowell, you can be assured that we’ll only pass on a debt for potential legal action if we haven’t been able to agree a suitable solution with you. If we instruct solicitors to recover the outstanding debt, they will attempt to contact you to agree a suitable arrangement with you to avoid any legal action being necessary.

Take a look at our frequently asked questions to learn more on this.

What is a bailiff?

The word “bailiff” can mean many things, and there are several types of people who come under the banner of “bailiff” in the English and Welsh debt recovery process. In the interest of keeping things simple, where we refer to a bailiff in this guide we are talking about County Court bailiffs.

The bailiffs that Lowell and their solicitors use are direct employees of the County Court and can be instructed to undertake a number of tasks, but within this guide, we are talking about situations where they have been instructed to collect a debt.

Bailiffs have a legal power to collect a debt, whether through payment or the sale of goods. Bailiffs will look for ways to help you settle your debt, through a payment plan or ‘controlled goods agreement’, also known as a CGA.

Bailiffs are there to help you settle your debt in a reasonable and sensible way, but we understand that the thought of bailiffs coming to your home can be worrying. The best way to avoid this situation and stop bailiffs from having to visit is to engage with Lowell or our solicitors when you receive contact from them so that a suitable payment arrangement can be agreed.

If a bailiff has already been in touch with you, your first port of call should be to speak with the bailiff or the County Court to discuss your options.  

What's the difference between bailiffs and doorstep debt collectors?

Bailiffs have a legal power to collect a debt and work on behalf of the courts. A doorstep debt collector works on behalf of a debt collection agency or directly for a creditor.

Doorstop debt collectors can ask you to make a payment agreement, but they’re not there to enforce a debt. Their aim is to work with you to agree a payment plan and start the process of settling your debt, but they don’t take control of possessions in the same way that a bailiff could.

Lowell don’t send doorstep debt collectors currently. Instead, we'll get in touch with you directly, by phone, letter or email, to discuss your situation, and to agree a suitable payment plan.

Who sends bailiffs?

Bailiffs have a legal power to recover debt and goods, and are instructed to recover debts on behalf of judgment creditors, or their instructed solicitors. The bailiffs that Lowell and their solicitors use are employed directly by the County Court.

In most cases, bailiffs are sent by the court to collect debts, and this can include things like council tax, child maintenance, unpaid VAT, and a number of other types of liabilities. However, if a bailiff is instructed to collect a debt for Lowell it will be in relation to an outstanding County Court Judgment. This could be for a balance incurred through a utility provider, financial services, home shopping account, or telecommunications debt.

If this is the case, it is never too late to get in touch with Lowell or their solicitors to agree to a suitable payment arrangement.

Will I be informed before bailiffs visit my home?

We will always write to you before instructing solicitors, and all of the solicitors who work with us will do the same before applying for a bailiff to visit you. We will always offer you time resolve the matter before any legal action is taken, so it is important that you get in touch when you first hear from us or our solicitors.

What bailiffs can and can't do

We understand that bailiffs attending your property can be worrying or stressful. It helps to be informed with the correct information about what bailiffs can and can’t do. If you’re expecting a visit from a bailiff, here’s a helpful guide to what you can expect.

What can bailiffs do?

When a bailiff first visits a property, they can only enter your home if they are allowed in by the person there. If there is nobody there, the bailiff will usually leave a card to say they have visited, with a phone number to discuss the matter with them. They can enter through an unlocked door if they have previously been allowed in and they are returning to your home to collect goods to be sold to repay the debt.

A bailiff will visit you at your home to discuss repaying the debt, and will usually make you aware of payment options. If you are unable to pay the debt in full, they may take an inventory of saleable goods in the property (more details on this further on), and will ask that you sign a Controlled Goods Agreement (CGA) -  these goods will remain in the property whilst you make payments, and will only be seized and sold if the agreement is broken.

If you feel you’re unable to pay, there are lots of organisations you can speak to – like the Money Advice Service, or StepChange. If you need more support, take a look at our guide to independent support.

Can bailiffs force entry?

Bailiffs can only enter your home if they are allowed in by the person there. If there is nobody there, they may attempt to enter if the door is left unlocked, but this is not common practice. They can, however, force entry to collect goods to be sold to repay the debt where the terms of a Controlled Goods Agreement (CGA) have been breached, such as non-payment of agreed instalments.

What can bailiffs take?

If a bailiff comes into your home, their priority is to speak to you and to arrange payment of the debt, whether in full or in agreed instalments. They have limited scope for payment plans to be set though, so it is common for bailiffs to put you in touch with someone at Lowell, or our instructed solicitors, to agree to payment terms. Where the bailiff has been able to agree terms with you, it may also be necessary to have a Controlled Goods Agreement (CGA) created. This starts with an inventory of saleable goods within the property, which then fall under the control of the court. They will remain in your home whilst you make payments, but if the terms of the CGA are breached, the bailiff may then return to take possession of the goods to be sold at auction to repay the outstanding debt.  

Bailiffs can only take goods which belong to you or goods that are jointly owned. For example, the bailiff cannot take goods which are proven to belong exclusively to your partner or another person living at the property, nor can they remove protected goods, or tools of the trade. It is your responsibility to provide evidence of this should the need arise.

Any goods which the bailiff takes must be of saleable quality and value, to ensure they are likely to raise sufficient funds to pay the outstanding debt. Bailiffs will not remove goods if they are unlikely to raise sufficient funds at auction to clear the outstanding debt plus the removal, storage and auction fees. You can find more in-depth advice about this at the Citizen’s Advice Bureau or by visiting Gov.UK’s guide to bailiff’s powers.

What is a controlled goods agreement?

When a bailiff visits, if you can’t afford to pay a debt in full, they can make a ‘controlled goods agreement’, or a CGA. A CGA means that you can keep all your possessions where they are. You and the bailiff will work out a reasonable repayment plan that you can afford to keep up to, so you can work to clear your debt with regular payments. The goods are only removed and sold where the terms of the CGA are breached, such as failing to make payments as agreed.

If you’re arranging a CGA, it might be worth checking if there are any additional bailiff fees – just ask the bailiff to explain if you’re unsure – these can sometimes include removal, storage and auction fees in the event goods have to be sold.

What can't bailiffs take?

As a last resort, bailiffs could use some of your possessions to help clear your debt, but there are some things they won’t take. This includes:

  • Things that belong to other people
  • Things that belong to your children
  • Pets
  • Things that you need to do your job or study, including vehicles, tools, books, or computers, up to a total value of £1,350
  • Vehicles with a valid Blue Badge
  • Vehicles on hire purchase
  • Anything that you need to heat or light the house, or to keep it secure
  • Equipment you need for medical requirements, or anything you need to care for a child or elderly person
  • Tools of your trade

They'll also make sure you have everything you need for people living in your house, or anything you need for basic domestic chores and care, including:

  • Beds and enough bedding for everyone in your home
  • A table and enough chairs for everyone in your home
  • A washing machine
  • A cooker or microwave
  • A fridge
  • A landline or mobile phone

How many times can a bailiff visit?

After the initial letter telling you that a bailiff will be visiting, a bailiff may visit an unlimited number of times. They’ll work with you to establish a payment plan where possible and will make you aware of the options available to you.  They may also attempt to contact you by phone if we have your contact details.

Can bailiffs enter your house when you're not there?

The only way bailiffs could come into your home if you’re not there is if someone in your house lets them in, or if they can make ‘peaceable entry’ through an unlocked door. If the only people in your home are children under the age of 16, bailiffs won’t enter.

Can bailiffs take pets?

No, bailiffs won't take pets to try and settle a debt. 

Can bailiffs take my belongings for someone else’s debt?

Bailiffs can only take goods which belong to you or goods that are jointly owned. For example, the bailiff cannot take goods which are proven to belong exclusively to your partner or someone else living at the property. It is your responsibility to provide this evidence to the bailiff.

If an inventory of items is being created for a controlled goods agreement, the bailiff will usually list items that belong to other people in the property. These are known as “third party goods” and are listed to be clear that they have considered the item and have been given evidence they are not to be seized. If you own an item and it has been inventoried by mistake, just speak to the bailiff and show them proof of purchase or ownership.

Can bailiffs take a car on finance?

If you’re using a hire purchase, personal contract plan or finance scheme to buy your car or vehicle, then your vehicle is still owned by the company you made the finance agreement with. This means that bailiffs won’t take it – just make sure you show the bailiff that the car is on finance and show evidence that you’re still paying for your vehicle. You can use the HPI check website to prove that you’re still paying for the vehicle.

How should I deal with bailiffs?

Bailiffs are there to try and help you arrange payment for your debt, in a way that works for you and makes sure that everyone involved is satisfied. We understand that you might have questions about how to deal with bailiffs, so here are a few answers to the most common questions we receive about bailiffs. 

How do I stop bailiffs coming to my property?

Bailiffs are there to help you start getting your debt settled. The best way to stop a bailiff having to visit is to speak to the company that owns your debt or their solicitors sooner rather than later to discuss your circumstances. If your debt is with Lowell, our team are trained to listen and support you no matter your situation, so don’t be afraid to get in touch even if you don’t feel like you’re able to pay at the moment. If we have instructed solicitors to act on our behalf, we can put you in touch with them to discuss the most suitable solution.

If your debt is with Lowell, we’ll try our best to contact you before we instruct solicitors. Only if we can’t get in touch after trying repeatedly would we consider instructing solicitors. Where we do, we insist that they try to get in touch with you to help you find a solution for your debt before legal action is taken. Legal action is always a final measure, and even if there is legal action by a firm of solicitors, it’s not a guarantee that bailiffs will be sent, but the chances increase the longer you leave a debt unpaid.

If a bailiff’s visit has been requested, you can pay a fee to the Court and apply for the Warrant to be suspended. The Court will send you a form to complete which will ask you how much you can pay to the creditor each month. This form is then sent to our solicitors to review your offer. If the offer is accepted, you will receive an order to pay directly without the bailiffs having to attend. This can also be done by contacting the solicitors directly and will save you paying any fee to the court as they can suspend the warrant with the courts once they have reached a resolution with you.

Can a bailiff refuse a payment plan?

If a bailiff comes to your home, they’ll ask you if you can work out a payment plan. They’ll work with you to make sure that the payments you agree to are reasonable and work with your finances. They will try help you clear the amount owed over a reasonable period, but they only have limited powers to agree the period for payments. If they cannot offer you long enough to pay, they may direct you to the solicitors to discuss whether a longer period of payment can be agreed.

You can still access free and independent assistance and advice to see how you can manage your debt and help you take control. Organisations like StepChange  and the Money Advice Service can help with this.

Can Lowell send bailiffs and will Lowell come to my home?

If you’re working with Lowell to manage your debt and make payments on your agreed payment plan, you won’t need to worry about bailiffs. But if you don’t make payments to your Lowell account and you don’t get in touch to tell us why, your account may be passed to a firm of solicitors. The solicitors will then also work hard to get in touch with you before taking action. They may begin court proceedings, which may result in a County Court Judgement (CCJ) being registered against you. If you still don’t get in touch with them to arrange a payment plan, it’s possible that you might face enforcement action, which could include sending bailiffs to your home.

You might be concerned about bailiffs coming to your home, but they're here to work out the most appropriate way for the debt to be paid. If you feel you need some more help, there are plenty of companies who can offer you free and impartial advice - like Money Advice Service, or StepChange. If you need more support, take a look at our guide to independent support.

Lowell want to help you take control of your debt in an affordable way that suits you, so you can work towards becoming debt-free. If you have a debt with us and you’re concerned about potential legal action or bailiffs, get in touch with us. Find more guides on how to manage debt in our debt management hub.

First Published: 21st April, 2021