ACTION DESK: Threat makes us pay

DEBTrc''Steve Wilcox, debt advisor
DEBTrc''Steve Wilcox, debt advisor
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THEY can enter your property and take your possessions – but they very rarely do.

Steve Wilcox, of CAB debt support unit, says it’s the threat of this happening that makes people pay.

Earlier this year the Citizen’s Advice Bureau complained about bailiffs acting for Sheffield Council, claiming they were aggressive, ignored the council’s recovery policies and made unaffordable arrangements with people.

And the problem is continuing, according to Steve.

He said: “Yes, bailiffs collecting council tax in Sheffield are still a very big problem but, following MP Paul Blomfield’s involvement and your piece in The Star, the council has been conducting an internal review and we are also involved in discussions with them which we hope will lead to an improvement in the way they collect arrears.

“The main thing about bailiffs is that they very rarely take goods – it’s the threat of doing this that makes people pay.”

Here are the facts on bailiffs, written by debt expert Steve Rees of Vincent Bond & Co.

Can a bailiff barge into my property?

Only if you they are chasing a criminal fine that is unpaid, or a debt to HM Revenue & Customs. If you leave a door or window open, they can access the property, but otherwise you have to invite them in.

Can they take away any goods in the house to pay the debt?

No, they can’t. All property taken must belong to the debtor so TVs, DVDs and the like are fair game. Items like clothes or work tools cannot be taken at all.

Is a bailiff showing me an ID card enough to prove I have to pay them?

The bailiff should have an ID card or certificate proving they are who they say they are, but that is not enough to prove you owe money. Ask for a copy of the court order, or authorisation letter for them to take your belongings. If you are uncomfortable, call the police. Check out their story to make sure you know who is asking for the money. You will know yourself who you owe money to, but do not be afraid to speak to the bailiff through the letterbox first.

The bailiff said I could not have a receipt for payment, is that right?

No, this is not the case. You have to prove you have paid, and the bailiff should provide you with a receipt. If they will not, call the police.

Can they really charge me for taking my goods away?

Yes, they can – and they will.

How can I avoid having a bailiff come round?

Deal with your debts and any correspondence from the company you owe money to as soon as you can. Bailiffs are generally called in as a last resort, so you can avoid this nasty experience.

Steve said: “Fear of the unknown will usually make any situation worse, so by learning what can happen and what your rights are if you are faced with a bailiff, you should feel on firmer ground.

“Debt collectors are different to bailiffs. They are employed by creditors and it is their job to reach an agreement with the debtor to pay back the debt.

“Debt collectors do not have the same powers as bailiffs, they can only visit you and talk to you about repaying your debt.

“They cannot take goods from you, and if you are being harassed by a debt collector, then complain to your local Trading Standards department.”

There are more details about bailiffs and their powers on