Guide to bailiffs and debt collectors
Debt collectors and bailiffs have different roles - so you have different rights when it comes to dealing with them.
This guide will explain the differences between debt collectors and bailiffs, and how you should deal with them.
Why would I be contacted by a debt collector or bailiff?
If you've stopped making payments towards your debts, and you and your lender haven't been able to reach an agreement, they could employ a debt collector or a bailiff.
A debt collector may contact you to try and reclaim what you owe (on behalf of the lender). They can legally do this as soon as the payment becomes due, although most lenders will contact you several times asking for repayment before it gets to that point.
Your lenders could also take legal action against you (especially if you've been persistently ignoring their calls and letters). They can legally do this after one formal request for repayment has been made. In this case they'll apply for a County Court Judgment (CCJ), to obtain a court order to allow a bailiff round to recover what you owe.
So if your lender hasn't taken legal action, a bailiff will not contact you - it's more likely to be a debt collector. And you'll only be contacted by either if your lender feels that there's no alternative.
'When the debt collector calls'
Click on 'When the debt collector calls', for an explanation of debt collector law that shows you how to deal with debt collectors if they visit you. You'll also see some of the differences between bailiffs and debt collectors.
Questions to ask a bailiff or a debt collector
If a debt collector or bailiff contacts you, you should ask them a few questions:
Do you have proof?
Ask them if they have proof of who they are, and detailed proof of the debt they're trying to collect.
Can I set up a payment plan?
Debt collectors and bailiffs are there to get back what you owe. They may therefore accept a new repayment plan if they see it as the best way of reclaiming your debt.
You can start tackling your problem debts at any stage during the debt collection process (but preferably before debt collectors or bailiffs are called). If you want to stop the bailiff or debt collector, the best way to do this is to agree an affordable payment plan with your lenders.
If you aren't comfortable with talking to your lenders or a debt collector/bailiff, or if you can't come to an agreement, you should seek professional debt advice. Getting the right debt advice would help you deal with your debts, and a professional debt advisor could deal with your lenders for you.
What is the difference between a debt collector and a bailiff?
By law, debt collectors can:
- Contact you by letter
- Speak to you on the phone
- Give you clear information about who they are and what you owe
- Come to your home only if they have warned you in advance about the date and time, and you've agreed
- Enter your home only with your permission (and must leave immediately when requested)
- Accept a new repayment plan to make it easier for you to tackle your debts.
By law, debt collectors can't:
- Send letters in complicated language that you're unlikely to understand
- Pressure you into paying your debts in full, or in larger instalments than you can afford
- Pressure you into selling property or borrowing more money to repay what you owe them
- Tell others about your debts - or threaten to tell others
- Make you feel intimidated or threatened
- Phone you or contact you too frequently - or at unreasonable hours
- Visit your home if you've asked them not to
- Come into your home without your permission
- Contact you if you have recruited a debt management company to act on your behalf. You should tell them to contact the debt management company instead.
Bailiffs are a bit different. They are Court officers acting to enforce a Court judgement, and as such they have additional powers that debt collectors don't have.
By law, bailiffs can:
- Take your non-essentials items (such as your TV) to repay what you owe - if you haven't managed to reach a payment plan
- Force their way into your home if what you owe is a Crown debt (e.g. unpaid income tax or VAT)
- Force entry if they've been invited in peacefully on a previous visit
- Enter through unlocked doors and windows after their first visit
- Take your car from your drive in some cases
- Search for possessions once inside your home - forcing entry into rooms if required
By law, bailiffs can't:
- Take things that aren't yours
- Take your children's possessions
- Take anything that you truly need - for example your oven or clothes
- Take more than they need to repay what you owe
- List items within your home from outside. They have to have been inside in order to decide what they will take.
Could a debt management plan stop bailiffs and debt collector visits/calls/letters?
The best way to avoid debt collectors and bailiffs is to resolve your debt problems as soon as possible. If you're struggling to meet your unsecured debt repayments from month to month, a debt management plan could help.
You'd basically agree to make a smaller, more affordable payment each month - and make these payments over a longer period of time.
A debt management plan is an informal agreement which is not legally binding, so your lenders are not forced to accept the lower repayments, or stop any legal proceedings they were considering to retrieve the debt.
However, as long as your lenders can see that you're doing your best to repay what you owe, they'll probably decide there's no reason to get debt collectors or bailiffs involved.
To make things easier for you, your lender(s) may agree to freeze or reduce the interest and charges on your debts. Bear in mind that this is not guaranteed, and if they don't, the longer repayment period will increase the total amount of interest you pay. A debt management plan will also affect your credit score for up to six years after it has finished.
How Gregory Pennington can help deal with debt collectors and bailiffs
You can arrange a debt management plan on your own, or you could use a debt management company - like Gregory Pennington - to do it for you.
If you're accepted onto a debt management plan with Gregory Pennington, we'll deal with all correspondence with your lenders (or bailiffs or debt collectors) for you. If you receive letters or phone calls from them, you can ask them to contact your Personal Finance Team instead.
Your Personal Finance Team will help you to come to an agreement with your lenders that's fair to both of you. They'll make sure that your debt management plan continues to go smoothly - and deal with letters and phone calls from your lenders for you.
If you're struggling with your debts, you're worried about being visited by a debt collector or bailiff, or you've already been visited, Gregory Pennington could help you find an affordable way of repaying what you owe.« Back to help centre