Bailiffs are chasing me despite the coronavirus ban – what are my rights?

If you owe money to an organisation, the best thing to do is speak to them as soon as possible (Image: Getty Images/iStockphoto)

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The financial strain of Covid-19 and Britain’s two lockdowns have left some readers facing the threat of bailiffs.

Many have fallen behind on loan repayments and bills, and as a result, have had to face that dreaded knock on the door.

It is clear from those who have contacted me in recent weeks that most people’s fears are fuelled by not knowing their rights and from information gleaned from television documentaries.

So what is the truth, and what are your rights if you find yourself in this unwelcome position?

There are effectively three types of bailiff

  • Those who carry out property evictions
  • Those who collect local authority debts
  • Child maintenance and court fines
  • Those who collect all other types of debt
  • Different rules ­apply to each type so it is vital to know what they are.

    Evictions

    Due to the pandemic, there is now a ban on bailiffs carrying out evictions unless the court has ­already made an order because of anti-social behaviour, or there are extreme rent arrears that arose before the pandemic.

    Prior notice

    At present, bailiffs also have an obligation to send you a letter before they visit to find out if you are more vulnerable because of coronavirus
    (Image: Getty)

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    Bailiffs usually have 12 months to collect a debt from the date they send their first letter to you. This is called a 'notice of enforcement'.

    In the current climate, they can get this period extended if coronavirus rules prevented them from visiting your home.

    At present, bailiffs also have an obligation to send you a letter before they visit to find out if you are more vulnerable because of coronavirus.

    Local authority debt/child maintenance/court fines

    Bailiffs dealing with these issues are more commonly referred to as enforcement agents.

    They can still visit your home to ‘remind you’ about debts but under temporary rules currently in place, they cannot enter your home.

    They therefore cannot take possession or control of any of the property in your home so there is no current danger of an enforcement agent taking away your TV or any other items, as commonly seen in TV documentaries.

    But enforcement Agents can still clamp vehicles at your property unless you can show that they are not yours.

    Russell Hamblin-Boone, chief executive of the Civil Enforcement Association, has assured me that his members, who account for 99% of the ­industry, will abide by these temporary rules.

    Can bailiffs still chase me for all other debts?

    Bailiffs collecting all other debts can still enter your home, as long as they have served you a notice of enforcement and have checked if you are vulnerable because of coronavirus.

    If you are, they should not carry out the visit.

    My top tips

    Be proactive. If you do have an outstanding debt, don’t wait for a bailiff to turn up at your door.

    Instead, contact the organisation you owe, explain your financial situation and ask for time to pay or a payment plan.

    They will ask you for a schedule of your income and outgoings so have this ready in advance.

    In the current climate, it unlikely that any organisation will say no to a sensible payment plan.

    If it’s already too late for that and a bailiff does comes knocking, firstly, do not let them in and do not open the door.

    Tell them that you are speaking to the organisation the money is owed to and will be agreeing a payment plan and then do just that. If you feel threatened by the bailiff, call the police.