THE UK INSOLVENCY HELPLINE
BAILIFFS & COUNCIL TAX
This fact sheet is about bailiffs
F who may call trying to collect
council tax or community charge
(poll tax) arrears. If a bailiff has
DO I HAVE TO LET THE BAILIFFS
A contacted you to collect another
sort of debt the law might be
different. Phone us for advice
IF THE BAILIFFS HAVE NOT BEEN INTO
YOUR HOME BEFORE TO COLLECT THIS
C or seek advice from a local DEBT, THEY HAVE NO RIGHT TO COME IN.
advice agency. THEY CANNOT BREAK IN. YOU CAN
CHOOSE NOT TO LET THEM IN.
T council tax and poll tax are usually
collected by private firms of
bailiffs on behalf of your local
• DON’T open the door to them as they may try to
push past you. If they get inside, they may have
council. They try to take your a right to enter again and may break in to take
goods away and sell them, usually your goods.
at auction, to raise money to pay
• DON’T leave windows open or doors unlocked -
the debt. The process they have to
follow to say they want your goods bailiffs can legally get in through these. Bailiffs
is called ‘distraining’ or ‘levying’. CANNOT get the police to help them break
H From October 1998 bailiffs who
call must be “certificated”. This • BEWARE some bailiffs may leave you a phone
number, and arrange to come round to ‘have a
means they must have a certificate
from the county court allowing chat’. Don’t let them in, even if they say it’s
them to act as bailiffs. You can only to use the toilet or make a phone call.
complain to the county court about • Bailiffs MAY try to break into sheds, garages,
a certificated bailiff. Check that greenhouses etc., even though this is illegal.
the bailiff is certificated and see KEEP VALUABLES SAFE! They may be able
the section on “How to complain”. to take cars, motor-bikes and other vehicles
parked near your home.
From April 1998 you should get a
letter from the council telling you • Politely but firmly refuse to let the bailiffs in.
how much you owe and warning Offer what you can afford to pay. If the bailiffs
you that a bailiff will call if you do accept your offer, ask them to return to their car,
not pay the debt within 14 days. It
and go out and pay them. Make sure you get a
will also tell you who to contact at receipt.
the council if you have a query.
Contact the council and try to DON’T SIGN ANYTHING! If the bailiff leaves
O make an arrangement to pay what
you can afford immediately. If the
council agrees then they can stop
papers for you to sign and return, you do not have to
do this. You don’t have to sign agreements posted
through your door either. Phone us for advice
bailiffs calling out and save you immediately.
2 extra fees.
Bailiffs & Council Tax
someone else (your children, partner, lodgers etc.)
THE BAILIFFS HAVE ALREADY explain that the goods do not belong to you. If you can,
BEEN INSIDE MY HOME. show a receipt or note as proof. The owner of the
goods may have to provide a sworn statement in the
THIS IS MORE SERIOUS. If you have let them in form of a “statutory declaration” to say this is the case.
before, and they did a valid levy, then bailiffs have the They cannot take goods which are rented or hired.
right to return to your home and if you don’t let them This includes goods on hire purchase agreements.
in, they are allowed to break in. Show them a copy of your credit agreement if you can.
If the bailiffs insist on taking the goods - Phone us
• Contact the bailiffs straight away and make an for advice immediately.
offer to pay the debt in instalments. Show them
a copy of your personal budget so they can see
you are offering as much as you can afford.
WHAT IF I HIDE THINGS OR GIVE
You will need to treat this as a priority debt as THEM AWAY?
bailiffs could come back and take any goods
they have listed if you don’t pay. Get a receipt If the bailiffs haven’t yet been in, you can hide things
for any payments you make. or take them somewhere else. If the bailiffs have
already been in, you are committing an offence if you
• Contact your council and ask them to take the remove goods that they have said they will take. You
debt back. can hide them on your premises but the bailiffs can
search for them. However, if the bailiffs have listed
• Ask your local councillor for help.
exempt goods on a walking possession agreement, the
agreement may be invalid as it applies to these goods.
WHAT THINGS ARE THE BAILIFFS You may be able to remove the exempt goods only. If
ALLOWED TO TAKE? you are unsure whether some items that the bailiffs
have listed are exempt phone us for advice.
There are some things that the bailiffs are not allowed
to take at all; such as goods that are rented or hired. BAILIFFS PROCEDURES
The regulations also say that the following items are
exempt and can’t be taken: If the bailiffs are distraining for poll tax or council
• “Such tools, books, vehicles and other items of tax, there are certain procedures that they have to
equipment as are necessary for use personally in follow. They must have with them:-
employment, business or vocation” • written authorisation from the council for them
• “Such clothing, bedding, furniture, household to call. They should show you this if you ask.
equipment and provisions as are necessary for They must leave you a copy of:-
satisfying basic domestic needs of the person
and family”. • the law setting out their powers and what they
can and cannot do. These are the “Enforcement
• This list is not very specific so you may find that Regulations”.
bailiffs have a different idea of what items are
necessary for you to keep and what can be • the charges the bailiffs are allowed to make for
taken. You can complain about what the bailiffs each visit. You should check they have not
take if you feel the items should have been
added too much on to your debt. See the
exempt. Phone us for advice. schedule at the end of this fact sheet.
CAN THE BAILIFFS TAKE THINGS • any agreement you have actually signed. This
will be called a “Walking Possession”
WHICH ARE NOT MINE? agreement and includes a list of goods the
bailiffs have warned you they may take.
The bailiffs can only take goods belonging to you if
you are named on the liability order. This means that
if the council tax debt is just in your name, the bailiff
should not take goods which are owned jointly with
someone else. If they want to take goods that belong to
Bailiffs & Council Tax
they may be found on the Department for Constitutional
HOW DO I STOP THE BAILIFFS? Affairs website
• You can try to make an arrangement to pay the Phone us for advice.
debt back at a rate that you can afford. You can
offer the money directly to the bailiffs, although GET ADVICE FIRST, bailiffs law is very complex,
it is easier to get them to accept your offer if and even if you think that what they have done is
they have never been into your home. Always unfair, they may still be acting within the law.
get a receipt for any money you pay.
• From October 1998 bailiffs have to have a
• Bailiffs cannot send you to prison. If the certificate granted by a court to collect council
bailiffs have never been into your home and tax. A complaint from you can help get the
they will not accept your offer, all they can do is certificate withdrawn. Ask your local county
to pass your debt back to the council. It is court if they have a form for making a
important to make an arrangement to pay the complaint. If not, write in to the court manager
council, or they may try other ways of with details. The court will hold a hearing and
recovering the money, such as taking money out can cancel the bailiff’s certificate, order
of your wages or your benefit. compensation and order return of the goods. A
bailiff can be fined for collecting without a
• If the bailiffs refuse your offer it is important to certificate. However, even if the bailiff’s
put the money you have offered aside so you can certificate is cancelled, it continues to have
pay it to the council as soon as the debt is passed effect for any previous possession agreement
back to them. Write to the bailiffs and the unless the judge orders otherwise.
council telling them you are saving the money
up as the bailiffs have refused to take your • You can complain to the magistrates’ court, and
payments. there have been cases recently where the debt
has, in effect, been written off when it has been
• If you are on income support, pension credit or proved that bailiffs have acted illegally. This is
job seeker’s allowance, some councils have a done by making a complaint and asking for a
policy for not using bailiffs and will accept an hearing. The court can order return of the goods
offer from you or agree to accept direct or compensation.
payments from your benefits. Ask your council
if they are willing to take the debt back from the • You should complain to the council as the
bailiffs so you can pay them directly. bailiffs are acting as their agent. They can ask
the bailiffs to look at your complaint and change
• If the council won’t help then contact your local their procedures. If the council won’t help you
councillor and ask them to take it up with the could talk to your local councillor who may be
council for you. Explain what hardship you will prepared to take your complaint up with the
be in if the bailiffs come to your home and take council.
• You can ask the Local Government Ombudsman
to look at your complaint if the council refuse to
If it has been a long time since the bailiff came into
help you. The contact details are in “Useful
your home and you have not had any contact with
them during this time, the future action they can take
against you may be limited. Phone us for advice.
HOW DO I COMPLAIN?
You may be able to complain about bailiffs charges.
There are national standards for enforcement agents. The amounts they are allowed to charge for council tax
These good practice guidelines set out general rules for and poll tax are set out in the schedule on page 5. You
how bailiffs should behave and what procedures they are entitled to make a written request for a full
should follow. You can mention these standards in breakdown of the fees the bailiffs have added on to
your complaint but the standards are not enforceable your debt. If you feel you have been charged too much
by law. We can give you details of the standards or you can complain in writing to the council and the
bailiffs. You may be able to ask the county court to
Bailiffs & Council Tax
look at the charges for you see below. Phone us
for advice. USEFUL ADDRESSES
You can find out what is ‘reasonable’ by making
enquiries on a local basis. For example, if you have The Secretary
been charged £80 for attendance with a van, and local Association of Civil Enforcement Agencies
enquires indicate you could hire a van for a morning Kensington House
for £40 this is clearly unreasonable, especially as it is 33 Imperial Square
likely that bailiffs will be visiting several properties at Cheltenham
once, and many companies own their own vans. Gloucestershire GL50 1QZ
Tel: 01242 241456
The bailiffs should only charge the fee for entering Website: www.acea.org.uk
into a walking possession agreement if the person
named on the original liability order signs the
Enforcement Services Association (ESA)
(formerly The Certificated Bailiffs Association)
In the first instance, complain to the bailiffs Park House
themselves. You can tell them you know their charges 10 Park Street
are excessive and that you will be taking further action Bristol BS1 5HX
if the charges are not reduced to the levels shown in Tel: 0117 907 4771
the schedule. Website: www.ensas.org.uk
• You can then complain to the council as the Local Government Ombudsman (England)
bailiffs are acting as agents of the council. Millbank Tower
There have been recent cases that have been Milbank
taken back in front of the magistrates’ court over London SW1P 4QP
these issues, with the result that the councils Advice Line: 0845 602 1983
have been forbidden to take any further recovery Monday to Friday 9.00 am – 4.30 pm.
action, or in other words, the debt has been Website: www.lgo.org.uk
written off. So it IS worth complaining.
There are three Local Government Ombudsman offices
• You can apply to the county court for the costs for England. Please contact the advice line to check
to be checked. An application for a detailed where to send any complaint.
assessment of the charges needs to be made
within three months of receiving the bailiff’s Local Government Ombudsman (Wales)
bill. They will decide if the charges are Derwen House
excessive or not. There is a fee to pay to the Court Road
court for this application. If the court decides Bridgend
not reduce the bill at least 20% you can be liable CF31 1BN
for the bailiffs firm’s court costs. You need Tel: 01656 661 325
legal advice first. Phone us for advice. Website: www.ombudsman-wales.org
• Some private firms of bailiffs belong to The
Association of Civil Enforcement Agencies or
The Enforcement Services Association. The
details are in “Useful Addresses”. You can
complain to a trade association as well as the
council. Both trade associations follow a set
complaints procedure. Before complaining find
out which association your bailiff firm belongs
to. We can send you further details. Phone
us for advice.
Bailiffs & Council Tax