what is a bailiff?

Summary: This article explains what a bailiff is, the various types of bailiff and what they are entitled to do if they arrive at a debtors property.

Simply put, a bailiff is someone who is legally authorised to act on behalf of a creditor in order to reclaim monies owed. They must have a 'Warrant of Execution' in order to claim money owed under a County Court Judgement, or either a 'distress warrant' or 'liability order' if acting on behalf of the Magistrates Court (for unpaid council tax or outstanding fines).

There are several types of bailiff:

County court bailiffs are employed by HM Courts and Tribunals service and are responsible for collecting debt owed under a County Court Judgement (CCJ).
High Court Enforcement Officers are again employed by the court, and are responsible for collecting monies owed under a High Court judgement.
Certified bailiffs are private individuals deemed fit by a County Court to seize goods from a debtor to repay monies owed for most types of debt, apart from that owed under a High Court or County Court judgement.
Non certified bailiffs can recover debt by seizing goods, but are not allowed to "levy distress for rent, road traffic debts, council tax or non- domestic rates, or enforce the collection of money due under High Court or county court orders" (House of Commons Library, The Current Regulation of Bailiffs, Standard Note SN/HA/4103).

Can a bailiff force entry into my home?

Assuming the bailiff has the relevant authorisation, they are legally permitted to enter the debtor’s property and seize goods to the value of the amount owed (and any associated costs). It is important to remember that a bailiff may not use force to enter a property at this stage, and must be let in.

Will a bailiff take my possessions immediately?

While they may take the goods immediately, the bailiff may come to what is known as a 'Walking Possession Agreement' with the debtor. This allows the debtor to keep their possessions for a daily fee paid to the bailiff. However, this is a short term measure and is only to allow a few extra days to try to renegotiate the outstanding debt with the court (if applicable). It is also worth noting that if the debtor fails to pay under the Walking Possession Agreement, or ignores it, the bailiff at this point is allowed to use force to enter a property to seize the goods.

What will the bailiff do with my possessions?

The bailiff’s sole focus is to get the best price possible for the items seized, and therefore they are usually placed into a public auction. There are some occasions when a court may allow goods to be sold privately (for example, if there is a specialist item that will fare better in a private sale than public auction).

Can a Bailiff add costs or charges to the debt owed?

The causes of the many complaints against bailiffs are the charges that they may impose. They are allowed to charge for costs associated with seizing goods and for their sale, and this is added to the total amount owed.