Hounded by debt? Know your rights
If you have debts, it is important to understand the difference between bailiffs and debt collection agencies.
Bailiffs (such as Newlyn’s, Equita and Rossendales) can only collect a debt once the magistrate or county courts have had a court order against you. Debts collected by bailiffs are known as priority debts.
Bailiffs can apply fees to your debt which can quickly add up if you don’t act quickly. County court bailiffs can charge £75 for writing to you (called compliance), £235 for visiting your home and £110 for removing and selling your goods. If you owe more than £1500 then they can apply an additional charge at 7.5%.
Once you begin payments to a bailiff, you are then responsible for paying their fees in addition to the original debt. If bailiffs cannot get the payment from you, they may return the debt to the court or creditor and at that time, you are no longer responsible for paying their fees. Bailiffs must carry identification with them as proof of their identity, such as a badge, ID card or enforcement agent certificate.
The general advice when dealing with bailiffs is to not let them into your property. Once a bailiff has gained ‘peaceful entry’ into your home because you let them in or your door was open, they then have the right to force entry if it is necessary to return to your home. Bailiffs collecting unpaid criminal fines or income tax can force entry into your home.
Even if a bailiff cannot gain access to your property, they can seize your vehicle.
Debt collection agencies
Debt collection agencies (such as Lowell, Moorcroft, and Westcott) do not have the same powers of collection that bailiffs do.
Although collection agencies may threaten that they will send representatives to visit you at home, it is extremely rare that they do. In the unlikely event that they should call, they do not have the power to remove goods or gain entry to your home.
You do not have to speak to them, let them into your home or enter into any repayment agreement with them that you cannot afford. Generally, debt collection agencies do not add additional fees.
Someone visiting your home from a debt collection agency is not a bailiff. Debts collected by collection agencies are categorised as non-priority debts and are not as important as priority debts.
If you are being chased for debts by either bailiffs or collection agencies then you should seek advice and assistance as soon as possible to set up an affordable payment agreement or to discuss all your options to resolve your debt situation.
If you would like to speak to a Money Adviser about your debts contact our Money Advice team.
Written by John Jackson, Money Adviser