We know that the stress and anxiety of unpaid council tax bills can feel like a weight on your shoulders. With that in mind, the following guide will give you an overview of Equita and what to do if you’ve received a letter of enforcement.
It can be a confusing and worrying time — one often not helped by complex paperwork and an overload of information. We can help break this information down and explain how the process works from start to finish. Although sometimes it might seem like the problems are out of control, we have a team of specialist advisers who can guide you through, providing you with the information and advice you need, getting you on track to paying back your debt at a rate that’s suited to your means and needs.
We’ll provide a personalised service and keep you informed along the way, with advisers on hand from the moment you pick up the phone until that last payment is made, leaving you free from debt.
We'll guide you through everything you need to know if bailiffs are at your door
If you’ve had council tax debts in arrears for a while, or have defaulted on payments, this debt can be passed on from the local council to a bailiff. While this may sound frightening, this is a normal part of the process in the collection of unpaid debts. While it’s true that bailiffs have the power to remove and sell your goods in order to settle your debt, they can only do this after your creditor has taken you to court.
The official title of a bailiff is ‘enforcement agent’. They’ll refer to themselves when they visit as such, and you’ll see this on any letters they send too.
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A notice of enforcement is essentially the formal start of the bailiff process — before this an enforcement officer isn’t allowed to visit your home or business premises. The letter outlines the reasons they’ll visit and what you can do to stop this happening.
According to Equita, the notice of enforcement gives you a minimum of seven days in which to either pay the debt, or contact them to discuss it — in what’s called the compliance stage. If the debt isn’t paid within this period, then a civil enforcement agent will visit your home in order to seek payment or seize goods — this is termed the enforcement stage. This seven-day period doesn’t include Sundays or bank holidays, Christmas Day and Good Friday.
If you don’t take measures to stop the bailiffs within this window, then they can visit you at any point during the following 12-month period after the enforcement notice was issued. It’s important that you take action to deal with the debt from the moment you receive a letter of enforcement. In certain (limited) cases, the bailiffs may obtain a court order which gives you less than the seven day compliance period to settle your debt. This will only happen if the courts and enforcement agents think that giving you more time would mean you attempting to hide or get rid of your valuable possessions to avoid them being repossessed.
The notice must contain all the relevant information surrounding your case including your name, address, date of issue, details of the total sum etc. It should also outline when you must make the payment and what will happen if you don’t pay, including the fees you will incur.
It must also be sent to you either in writing by post, or hand delivered to your home or business, by email or fax or by fixing the notice to your premises if it doesn’t have a letterbox (or given to you in person). If the above details don’t apply to your situation, you can complain to the enforcement agency. You should ask them to put the action on hold while they issue a new notice.
If you’re dealing with a case from a bailiff action that started prior to April 6, 2014 then different rules may apply to you. In this case you should get advice from your local Citizens Advice Bureau.
First of all, don’t let the bailiffs push you around — some might tell you that you’re not permitted to allow a third-party to deal with your case. This isn’t true. The most important thing is not to ignore the letter — we can speak to them on your behalf to help deal with your debt.
Don’t be afraid by warnings that they’ll force entry if you don’t let them in — bailiffs can’t enter your home unless they have an agreement from the court, which is highly unlikely for a council tax debt. Bailiffs are only permitted to force entry into your home in order to collect unpaid criminal fines, Income Tax or Stamp Duty, and solely as a last resort. However, if you do let a bailiff into your home, then on following visits they will be allowed to force entry. Remember, bailiffs cannot:
If a bailiff does come to your door you can do several things before you choose to speak to them about any specifics. You should ask them:
You can also ask them to prove their authorisation and identity even if they’ve visited before. To get them to do this without opening the door, get them to push it through the letterbox or hold it up to the window. And remember — all bailiffs must have a certificate to prove themselves as such, unless they’re exempt or in the company of someone who does have a certificate.
Here are some simple tips on what to do when the bailiff knocks:
If you’re expecting a visit from a bailiff then keep your doors locked and make sure your windows are closed properly. Remember, they can’t enter your home without permission. Make sure everyone in your home knows to keep the doors locked at all times too, and make them aware they shouldn’t open the door to someone they don’t know. You could have a door chain fitted too for a few pounds to stop them gaining entry if someone opens the door to them by mistake.
If they want to talk, you can do this through the door without granting them entry, or ring us and we can deal with them for you. You’re not obliged to sign any forms or make agreements with them to pay more than you can manage per month, no matter how demanding they may seem. If they come to your door, ask to see a copy of the warrant or writ. Get them to show you this through the letterbox or window so you don’t have to open the door.
If you let an enforcement agent into your house, he or she will try to negotiate payment of your debt. Failing this they will make an inventory of your goods and try and make you sign a Controlled Goods Agreements, which postpones your belongings being taken away immediately. But as discussed above, you are under no legal obligation to let the enforcement officer into your home.
If bailiffs gain access to your home, they may then take some of your belongings to sell. They can remove luxury items such as TVs and game consoles. But they can’t take things you need — essential items like clothes, cookers and fridges. They also can’t take items that don’t belong to you, but you’ll need to provide proof that someone else’s items aren’t your own.
In most cases, if you’ve received a notice of enforcement, the only way to deal with your debt and stop bailiffs coming to try and take away your belongings is to make an agreement to pay off the debt you owe.
Payment plans help break up council tax debt into more manageable chunks that can be paid back on a monthly basis. You shouldn’t be forced to try and pay more than is within your means.
Our team have experience in dealing with the council, so can act as a buffer between you and your creditor. In doing so we can avoid threats of legal action and repossession of your valuable goods. Acting as your representative, we can arrange for payments to be made in monthly instalments. Drawing on our expert budgeting advice we’ll manage your debt on a case-by-case basis, helping to build a payment plan within your budget to break down and better deal with your debt.
We can negotiate with your creditor and ask them to suspend bailiff action for a couple of days while we help you work out how best to budget your finances and create a repayment plan. We can work with you to find out how much you can put aside each month to pay back your creditor.
Bailiffs have to treat you fairly and follow strict guidelines. They can’t, for example, threaten you or pretend to have powers they don’t. They’re not allowed to discriminate based on your age, sex, sexuality, ethnicity, religion or disability. You can report them if they use any language that’s sexist, homophobic, ageist or racist.
If you’re a vulnerable person, bailiffs must also take special care. This includes:
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If a debt collection agency has been in touch about your council tax arrears then we’re on hand to help. Our friendly and experienced team give free expert advice and can help you get started on the path to a debt free life. We can discuss your situation and help set up a specialised payment plan, working as your representative to speak to the local council and bailiffs.
You can get free help and advice to deal with bailiffs from the following sites: