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What is a Bailiff and What Do They Do?

How do you know if it is a bailiff or debt collector knocking on your door? This simple guide explains the role and responsibilities of bailiffs in the Britain.

BAILIFF DUTIES: There are several reasons why people get threatened with bailiff action.

In most cases, it happens to those who struggle to keep up with debt repayments. Failing to pay debts that you owe can result in a visit from a bailiff.

The information in this page clarifies exactly what a bailiff is. Find out at what point a court or organisation will use bailiffs to collect debts.

Further guidance explains the key difference between a bailiff and a debt collector.

Note: The explanations relate to a bailiff’s role and responsibilities in the United Kingdom. A bailiff in America is a peace officer of the court. Their role is to provide security for plaintiffs, defendants, judges, and juries.

In simple terms, bailiffs collect certain types of debts and they have the legal power to do so. But, there are limits to bailiff powers and your rights protect you at the same time.

One role of a bailiff is asking you to pay what money you owe. They can also take and sell your belongings to try and recoup the money.

Bailiff responsibilities vary depending on who they work for. They can be acting as a court official or a private firm might employ them. They are often called enforcement agents as well as bailiffs. This term gets used on any paperwork you receive from them.

A bailiff may visit you at home if you owe money. Their main task is to get a payment or see if anything you own can get sold to pay off the debt.

Money raised from selling personal belongings pays the fees for a bailiff’s services. If the sale raises enough money it also goes towards paying the debt owed to creditors.

There are several legal options to get money owed in the form of a debt. But, if they fail, creditors often ask a bailiff to collect the arrears.

As a rule, creditors issue a warning that they are considering using bailiffs to force a payment. The debtor should contact the creditor at that time – if not before.

The recommendation is to discuss any debt problems with the creditors. If that fails you can contact the local Citizens Advice office. They will help you find a solution for paying the debt you owe. Either way, the aim is to avoid bailiff action altogether.

Is that a Bailiff Knocking on the Door?

Using the services of a bailiff is not the only option in debt collection for creditors. Some organisations also use debt collectors.

A debt collector does not have the same legal powers as a bailiff.
What is a Bailiff and What Do They Do in the United Kingdom?

Debt collectors should never carry out the same roles of bailiffs. They must not use scare tactics to force people into paying a debt.

A genuine bailiff will have gone through a certification process. They get special court authorisation to conduct their business of debt collection.

Note: Even so, if they behave ‘badly‘ you can make a complaint about a bailiff’s conduct and behaviour.

Types of Debts Bailiffs Collect

A home visit may be from a private bailiff or one acting for the court. But, all bailiffs can only collect certain types of debts, such as:

  • Business rent, Income Tax, National Insurance, and VAT.
  • Business rates and Council Tax.
  • Child support and child maintenance.
  • County court judgements (CCJs) and high court judgements.
  • Magistrates’ court fines and compensation orders.
  • Parking penalties.

Differences between a Bailiff and a Debt Collector

There are ways to check whether you are dealing with a bailiff or a debt collector. Determining the following will help:

  1. What is the nature of the debt that the collector is chasing? The person will not be a bailiff if the debt is not on the list mentioned above.
  2. Did you get an enforcement notice? This is an official notice with a set format. You must receive this notice if a creditor instructs a bailiff to act against you. As a rule, it will not be a bailiff if you did not receive an enforcement notice.
  3. Did the officer turn up at your door unannounced and with no advance notice? In most cases, bailiffs must provide some notice before they make a visit to a home. Thus, if someone is knocking on your door with no warning, it is unlikely to be a real bailiff.

Fact: Debt collectors can chase monies owed to creditors. But, the law does not allow them to take away any personal belongings. Contact the lender or Trading Standards to report bad behaviour by a debt collector.

What is a Bailiff and What Do They Do in the United Kingdom?