What to do if the bailiffs come knocking - and how to avoid it in the first place

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THE fear of bailiffs coming round to your home and trying to remove some of your possessions is enough to worry anyone who has ever fallen behind with a bill.

According to a number of debt charities, some bailiffs are abusing their powers and they are now calling for tighter controls over what they can and can’t do.

Charities including Citizens Advice, The Children’s Society and Advice UK, published a report on bailiffs this week.

It said some bailiffs still behave in an intimidating way, do not accept offers of payment and fail to identify whether the person in debt is vulnerable or not.

The use of bailiffs by financial services lenders is relatively rare. The biggest users of bailiffs are local authorities – who use them to collect anything from unpaid Council Tax to parking tickets.

HMRC – the taxman – also uses them to collect tax credit overpayments, or unpaid tax or national insurance. So you’re more likely to receive a visit from a bailiff if you fall behind with your Council Tax rather than another unsecured repayment like a credit card.

According to the report, English and Welsh councils used bailiffs on 2.1 million occasions between 2014 and 2015. The charities are now calling for an independent regulator to be set up that will make sure that bailiffs are behaving fairly towards people in debt and for a single and simple way for people to complain, if they’re unhappy with how they’ve been treated by a bailiff.

Bailiffs are used by creditors when you have failed to repay a debt or you’re behind with payments (for example for gas and electricity or even your TV Licence) and they want to recover some of the money that you owe by seizing your possessions.

Using bailiffs is a type of enforcement action, like taking money straight from your wages or benefits to repay a debt.

Bailiffs are not the same as debt collectors – they can only act on the authority of a court – so a bailiff won’t come round to your house just because you’ve missed a couple of repayments but they can be used if you fail to pay a County Court Judgment (CCJ).

They should only be used as a last resort. If you feel you’ve been treated unfairly or aggressively by a bailiff, you can report them by complaining to the bailiff firm in question, or if it’s concerning unpaid Council Tax, you can complain to your council.

If you’ve had a letter warning you that a bailiff is coming round, get in touch with the creditor as soon as possible to see whether you can work out an affordable way of repaying the debt. You don’t have to wait till you’re threatened with bailiffs in order to tackle your debts – the sooner you get in touch with your creditors or seek expert debt advice the better.

Debt Advisory Centre: 0161 871 4881