Category: Council Tax

3 Common Bailiff Myths Debunked

There are so many myths and legends surrounding the role of bailiffs that you’d think they weren’t even real people doing a job, but we’re here to let you in on a couple of secrets. Bailiffs would very much like you to think of them as super villains with powers far beyond your control, but this simply isn’t true. They have to abide by the rules of their job – which are actually quite reasonable – just like anyone else and, armed with the right knowledge, you can easily take back control. Here are some of the most common bailiff myths:

Bailiffs are always allowed to force entry – too many people think that, just by turning up at your home, a bailiff is always allowed to force entry but this, actually, is rarely the case. Bailiffs are only allowed to use force to gain entry if you have peacefully allowed the entry on a previous occasion, as a last resort or with permission from a court as they are collecting unpaid income tax or VAT. Some bailiffs think that, because so few people are aware of their rights, they can be aggressive and forceful no matter what the circumstances.

Once inside, Bailiffs can take whatever they want – while Bailiffs are certainly allowed to take items belonging to the person in debt (including jointly owned items), they should never take possessions that belong to family members, housemates or children. In addition to this restriction, bailiffs should never remove basic domestic items such as bedding, clothes, ovens or fridges. If it is an essential household item, then you should be able to keep it with you – no excuses.

Bailiffs can show up with no warning – a rule was actually passed in 1998 that prevented this, with local authorities now obliged to give residents at least 14 days notice of a bailiff visit to collect overdue council tax, and this means that if you are being visited by bailiffs without any forewarning, this is entirely illegal. Subsequently, bailiffs working for the country court must give you at least seven days to pay the debt before anyone is sent to your property to collect.

What are Bailiffs and what Powers do they Have?

If you have received a warning that bailiffs may be visiting your property, it can be a frightening, worrying and daunting experience when you’re faced with this prospect on top of the stress of debts and council tax arrears. It can be particularly worrying if you aren’t familiar with the process. This is why we are dedicated to providing helpful information and advice on bailiffs. If you have received a warning that a bailiff may be visiting your home, you may want to know what powers they will have once they arrive.

Put simply, a bailiff is someone who is responsible for taking belongings from people who owe money, and these items are sold in order to pay back the debts. This can be a particularly stressful time, so it is important to understand where you stand if a bailiff comes knocking at your door. If you have arrears on your council tax, your local council may authorise a bailiff to take your belongings once a liability order has been given.

In the majority of cases you are not obliged to open your front door to a bailiff or let them into your home. In fact, we advise that you never let a bailiff into your home and first seek advice from us. It’s important to remember that bailiffs aren’t allowed to force their way into your home if you owe money on your council tax (they are sometimes allowed to force entry if they need to collect unpaid criminal fines) and shouldn’t push past you to gain access to your home or put their foot in the door, for example.

If you let a bailiff into your home, the bailiff may take some of your belongings in order to pay your debt. In this case, bailiffs are allowed to take luxury items such as TVs or stereos, but cannot take vital items such as clothes, furniture or fridges. They also can’t take items that belong to someone else, such as your partner.

It’s important to remember that bailiffs do not have the same powers as police – bailiffs cannot threaten you with arrest or prison – and they can’t request the police’s assistance if you deny them access to your home.

Facing bailiff action can be a worrying experience, but with valuable advice from us we can find a successful resolution to your worries, whether we mediate between you, the bailiff, and your council on your behalf, or offer helpful advice on how to deal with bailiffs.

What is the Difference Between Bailiffs and Sheriffs?

When you are dealing with debt, one of the last things that you want to be doing is digging through web page after web page on Google trying to discern the job role of the different types of people that you are in contact with. One of the main enquiries that we get relating to job definitions is the difference between Bailiffs and Sheriffs.

Honestly? Well, it depends on where you live.

Maybe when you picture a Sheriff from Scott & Co, you’re getting an image of some gunslinger with a deep south drawl out in the wild west, spitting tobacco and riding a horse. Yeah. We don’t have those in England.

Sheriffs in England and Wales mean business. If you’re dealing with a Sheriff, the likeliness is that you either owe a lot of money, or you’ve neglected your promise to meet a payment scheme. Either way, dealing with a Sheriff can be a little more complicated than dealing with a Bailiff. It also means that you’ll likely have fewer rights.

If you’re dealing with a Sheriff, there is a likeliness that they will come into your house. They will often have warrants that grant them access, and should you refuse them access, they are at liberty to use ‘reasonable force’ to gain entry. They will then levy items that they will sell to cancel out your debt. To avoid this, you should seek advice from Council Tax Advisors, who can help liaise with the courts to try and arrange a settlement or payment scheme that is more realistic.

Bailiffs have more limited rights, but will often try to make out that they are allowed access to your home. We advise that you hold discussions with any stranger that might be a Bailiff or Sheriff from a window or letterbox, and you should always ask for ID or a warrant if they are demanding access. Contacting Council Tax Advisors should be your next port of call.

Sheriffs deal directly with orders handed out directly from the High Courts. Bailiffs tend to be employed by the County court or by a private firm, most of which have to become certified. This means that Bailiffs have less rights, and aren’t permitted to enter your home. Preventing a Sheriff from entering your home is a lot harder.

A quick note for anyone who lives in Scotland – if you’ve been contacted by a Sheriff, you needn’t worry as much. In Scotland, a Sheriff is a Bailiff. If you get approached by a messenger at arms however, you will need to be more concerned.

Bailiffs are relatively easy to handle, and Council Tax Advisors are here to help. If you think you may be dealing with Sheriffs or have been contacted by Sheriffs, you should contact Council Tax Advisors immediately.

How to deal with bailiffs who overstep their jurisdiction

We haven’t got a problem with bailiffs. No. But we do have a problem with bailiffs who overstep their jurisdiction. The law surrounding the levying of objects from your home is clear, and the law surrounding breaking and entering is also clear. It is only the media that has allowed such interpretations get out of hand. Whether some less scrupulous bailiffs have taken inspiration from the media, or whether the media has taken inspiration from them, they exist; the type of bailiff that is better described as a bully.

The word doesn’t seem to provide the right kind of weight to it though, does it? The word bully conjures images of some snotty little brat from high school that used to give all the self-conscious teacher’s pets wedgies. This is a different sort of thing all together isn’t it?

Not really. It is still the cowardly victimisation of someone who is in a vulnerable position. Is it bullying? Is it psychological abuse? Is it a verbal, physical or emotional assault? Maybe all of these, maybe none.

It’s one thing knowing how to deal with a regular bailiff, come to your home with the genuine task of doing their day to day job (after all, they are human), but dealing with a bailiff who is aggressive, forceful and intimidating is another matter entirely.

By following advice that Council Tax Advisors offer, you should be able to avoid a situation that is overly confrontational. If you can help it, don’t open the door, talk through a window or a letter box and get in touch with Council Tax Advisors as soon as you possibly can.

There are also a variety of routes that you can go down if you want to complain about a bailiff, although we advise that if a bailiff has been aggressive or tried to break into your home you both complain and inform the police. Bailiffs are not above the law, and they are not allowed to force entry unless they are collecting unpaid criminal fines, income tax or stamp duty, and they may only do that as a last resort.

So no, we haven’t got an issue with bailiffs; most of them are just trying to do their jobs and will accept negotiations for a debt payment scheme. As ever, it’s the minority that spoil it, but when they do, Council Tax Advisors are here to help.

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