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Debt and Wellbeing – Part Two

In part one, I discussed dealing with growing debts and the best way of dealing with them. But what if you’re past that point? What can you do if enforcement action is being taken against you? Is there anything you can do?

If you haven’t paid a debt you might be sent a letter from bailiffs (also called enforcement agents) saying they will visit your home to collect payment.

This letter is known as a ‘notice of enforcement’ which you should NOT ignore. If you do, the bailiffs can visit your home after 7 days and as well as collecting payment for the outstanding debt, they can charge you fees so you could end up owing more money.

There are things you can do to stop them coming if you act quickly, if you:

  • Are disabled or seriously ill
  • Have mental health problems
  • Have children or are pregnant
  • Are under 18 or over 65
  • Don’t speak or read English well
  • Are in a stressful situation like recent bereavement or unemployment

If you have received a notice of enforcement it is important to check that it is valid and contains the correct information. If it doesn’t you can complain to stop the bailiffs coming until a new notice is sent.

For a notice of enforcement to be valid it must:

  • Show your correct name and address
  • Show what debt you owe and state the correct amount
  • Explain that you have 7 days’ notice before the bailiffs can visit
  • Come from a registered bailiff not a debt collector – you can check on the Bailiffs’ Register here
  • Be sent to you by letter – either by post, fax, email, by being fixed to your front door if you don’t have a letterbox or by being given to you
  • Be written in a certain legal style – see example here

You might be able to get more time to deal with the notice of enforcement. It is important to note that your notice of enforcement won’t be valid if it has come from a debt collector. This is because they do not have the same powers a bailiffs and can’t come into your home to collect a debt. You can send them away if they do.

However, even if you send the debt collector away and if you owe the debt, then you will still need to make arrangements to deal with it. If you ignore it, the problem will only get worse.

Dealing with the debt if you own it

You might be able to challenge the debt even if you owe, however it is important to note this won’t be the best option if you want to quickly stop the bailiffs visiting you as it can take a long time.

If you can afford to pay the debt, then you should call the bailiff straight away. This will stop them visiting and you’ll be able to avoid paying the extra fees.

If you can’t afford to pay your whole debt or anything at all then you can try to negotiate with the bailiffs to pay a smaller amount or get the debt written off. Even if your offer is refused you should still try to pay as this will show the bailiff you want to satisfy the debt.

Preparing for a bailiff visit

If you haven’t been able to pay your debt or set up a payment arrangement plan and the bailiffs are coming to your home, you don’t have to let them in. You may be able to work out what day the bailiffs will visit on. They have to wait 7 full days before they can visit you. This does not include the day you get the notice, the day of the visit or Sundays and bank holidays.

For example, if you get your notice on Monday the bailiffs can’t visit you until the Wednesday of the following week.

You can stop them getting in and from taking your belongings by:

  • Telling everyone in your home not to let them in
  • You shouldn’t let them into your home – it is always best to try and sort out your debt by keeping them outside and speaking through the door or over the phone
  • Not leaving any doors open (they can legally enter through any unlocked door) and your windows are closed. If you have a porch with a lockable door, you should lock this too
  • Parking or locking your car in a garage away from your home
  • They are only allowed to try and come into your between 6am and 9pm

Depending on the kind of debt you owe, the bailiff will sometimes have the right the force entry by asking a locksmith to open your door if you won’t let them in. They can force entry to your home or business if they are collecting:

  • Unpaid magistrates court fines, for example if you were given a fine for not paying your TV licence
  • Tax debts for HM Revenue and Customs, for example if you own income tax

The bailiffs will need to show you proof of what you owe and a ‘warrant’ or document called a ‘writ’ from a court. Check any documents are signed and in date and hold your correct name and address. They are not allowed to break down your door but they are allowed to use ‘reasonable force’. This means they’ll have to return with a locksmith who will unlock the door. It is very unlikely they’ll do this – you’ll usually still have time to make an offer to settle the debt.

If a bailiff is collecting any other kind of debt, they are not allowed to force entry. This includes:

  • Council tax arrears
  • Credit card or catalogue debts
  • Unpaid parking tickets
  • Money you owe to energy or phone companies

You have the right to keep the bailiff out of your home and talk through a closed door. It is advisable to make sure everyone in your home knows not to let anyone in. Ask for a full breakdown of the debt being collected and who the creditor is or the person or company they say you owe money to. Tell the bailiff to pass any documents through the letterbox or under the door. Once you have the documents, check they are still in date and have your correct name and address. If it is someone else’s debt, say you’ll contact the bailiff’s head office to explain and ask them to leave. If it is your debt, tell the bailiff to leave and say you’ll speak to their head office to make arrangements to pay.

The bailiff might say you have to pay them on the doorstep or you have to let them in – you don’t. They aren’t allowed to force their way into your home and they can’t bring a locksmith to help them get in.

More often than not, if you refuse to allow them entry they will leave, however, they will return if you don’t arrange to pay the debt. It is important to do this as soon as you can in order to avoid further fees being added to the debt.

If the bailiff refuses to leave you can contact the police, or you can complain if you think they are harassing you.

What happens if you let the bailiff into your home?

If you decide to let them in or they manage to obtain entry through an unlocked door or window and you can’t afford to pay what you owe straight away, you’ll normally have to make a ‘controlled goods agreement.’ This means you’ll agree to a repayment plan.

If you don’t make an agreement then the bailiff could remove your belongings to sell to pay off your debt.

Making a controlled goods agreement

Bailiffs won’t usually remove your belongings the first time they come into your home. They’ll make a list, called an ‘inventory’ of anything that belongs to you that they could take to sell and pay off your debt. This is called ‘taking control’ of your belongings.

If a bailiff clamps your car this means they have taken control of it – they don’t need to come into your home.

If you can’t afford to pay in full, making a controlled goods agreement stops the bailiff removing the belongings they’ve taken control of. You’ll have to agree a repayment plan to pay off your debt, otherwise the bailiff will return and could remove your belongings to sell to pay off your debt.

If the bailiff does write down any belongings onto the inventory then there are a few things you should consider:

  • They will have to include details sufficiently clear to define what’s been included – ask them to write the model, make and colour of anything they put on the inventory
  • Make sure they don’t write down anything they shouldn’t – things that belong to other people, pets or guide dogs, vehicles, tools or equipment you need to do your job or for study (up to a total value of £1,350), a Motability vehicle or vehicle displaying a valid blue badge.
  • They also have to leave you with – a table and enough chairs for everyone living in the home, beds and bedding for everyone living in your home, cooker or microwave and fridge, washing machine, phone or mobile phone, any medicine or medical equipment needed to care for a child or older person.
  • Tell them to cross off anything you don’t think they’re allowed to take. If they’ve added something that doesn’t belong to you, write ‘not mine’ next to it.

After the bailiff has taken an inventory, you’ll need to come to an agreement about what regular payments you can realistically afford to make. Make sure, when offering a monthly payment, it is an amount that (after taking essential costs into consideration such as food, rent, mortgage, energy bills) you can afford and that you can keep to. Try not to allow the bailiff to force you to make bigger payments than you can manage, and don’t let them rush you. If you feel pressured go into another room and call a friend or family member for support.

What if you break the controlled goods agreement?

You might receive a letter called a ‘notice of intention to re-enter’ if you’ve broken the agreement. This means the bailiff has a right to re-enter your home using ‘reasonable force’. They are not allowed to break down the door, they will have to use a locksmith. The bailiffs have to give you 2 full days’ notice after the day they give you the notice before coming to your home. For example, if you received the notice on Monday, they cannot return until the Thursday.

You should check the notice contains your correct name and address and explains how you’ve broken the agreement. If it is not correct then you should make the bailiff aware of the mistake and ask them to delay visiting until they’ve given you a valid notice. Even if the notice is valid there may still be time to do something about it by contracting the bailiff’s office to make a new offer to pay back the debt.

If you have any questions, I am always here to help. Simply use the contact form.

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