Council Tax Bailiffs

You should always pay your Council Tax, but what if you can't?
If you've fallen on hard times then the very last thing you need, is a bailiff making it worse by seizing your stuff, and maybe taking possession of your car, that just makes is more difficult to get out of financial trouble etc.

The bailiff stories in the links on the right hand side are based on real life events, although details are changed for legal reasons.
We strongly recommend you read the first Bailiff Story A bailiff gets control.
By the time you've finished reading each bailiff story, you should be well on your way to being a bit of a bailiff expert yourself.

We would just like to make one more important point - most bailiffs are just ordinary people doing a job.
Bailiffs only exist because the law allows Councils to use them instead of trying to make reasonable payment arrangements with people who can't afford to pay for some reason - anyone who chooses not to pay, is avoiding tax - and should expect bailiffs to call.
But anyone who can't afford to pay, shouldn't have to face the bailiffs, that's not right - they should be able to reach a more flexible arrangement with their council.
Bailiffs should be a last resort. It's the politicians that allow Councils to be inflexible with Council Tax Arrears, remember that we are only talking about a tiny percentage of the total money collected in Council Tax, and frequently the cost of bailiff intervention increases the debt that is owed as well as causing the most incredible stress and misery.

If you don't like the way things are, then write to your MP threatening to take your vote elsewhere if he/she doesn't do something about the cosy and amazingly profitable arrangement between the Council and the owners of Bailiff companies.

Ordinary people will always fall on hard times every now and then - they don't deserve to be treated like criminals because of that.
Bailiffs are necessary, but they don't need to be part of a £6 billion a year racket

Here are a few links that you might find interesting, let me know if you have any view about any of them:
Bankruptcy Credit Repair - We found a way to fix your credit, so come to RI Credit repair
Stolen ID - Protect your identity with Identity Theft!

Bailiff Debt is unpleasant, and Bailiff Law is complicated. So here are a few Bailiffs & Council Tax facts, and don't forget that this isn't legal advice.

Council Tax Arrears:
They're normally collected by private bailiffs or in house bailiffs on behalf of the council. Their job is to persuade you to let them take your goods away and sell them at auction, but you should know that that may not happen, because we've heard of peoples possessions finding their way into bailiffs own homes, and no-one in authority seems particularly bothered about it.

Taking possession of your stuff is called 'distraining' or 'levying'; but that doesn't mean Bailiffs have to take it away, and usually they don't want to, because they'd rather have the money. They don't even have to touch it, just indicating their intention to seize it can be enough.
The Bailiff must be able to reach it - looking through the window and making lists isn't legal - but that doesn't mean some Bailiffs don't try it on.

Council Tax Bailiffs must be "certificated". They apply to the County Court, and if the Court is satisfied that the applicant is a fit person to be a bailiff it grants them a certificate to act as bailiffs. You can complain to the County Court or the Magistrates Court about a certificated bailiff, - the only problem is, the court tends to be sympathetic towards the bailiff to begin with, so you'd better be sure of your facts and your legal ground before you start down that road.

14 day warning letter:
The Council is supposed to send you a letter telling you what you owe and warning you a bailiff will call if you do not satisfy the debt within 14 days. It also tells you who to contact at the council if you don't feel you owe the debt.
Contact the council and try to make an arrangement to pay what you can afford.
If the council accepts your offer they can stop bailiffs calling out, which will save you the bailiffs fees.
It does sometimes happen so it's worth a try, although usually the best you can hope for is a 14 day hold on any recovery action while they investigate your query; and even if you don't get that letter it won't stop the bailiffs turning up.
You should also know that there is often no chance of getting the council to voluntarily take the account back. They usually have to be forced or embarrassed into doing that.

Letting the Bailiffs in:
Do I Have To Let The Bailiffs In? - NO, Not unless you want to - and you'd have to be certifiable to want to do that.


Answering the Door
You are probably about to become one of those people that answers a knock on the door from an upstairs window.
It is very unwise to open the door to a bailiff because they at first jam their foot in the door so you can't close it, or they may try to push past you, or they may be leaning against the door waiting for you to open it. This is often referred to as the Threshold Manuever, which doesn't make it legal, but it indicates that they do it routinely.
If they get inside, even if they broke the law doing it, they have a right to enter again and may break in to take your goods.

Peaceful Entry:
Incredibly that means that a bailiff can sneak into your house, just like a burglar.
So don't leave windows open or doors unlocked - bailiffs can legally get in through these, and that includes upstairs windows as well because they are entitled to use a ladder to peek in through the upstairs window.
Bailiffs CANNOT get the police to help them break in, but don't be surprised if your local police officer takes the bailiffs side and asks you to let them in - although just like the bailiff, you don't have to let the Police in either, unless they have a search warrant, are in hot pursuit of a criminal, searching for an abducted child, are invoking anti-terrorist laws, etc, etc.

Sneaky Bailiff Tricks:
The bailiff might try to arrange to come round to "talk about it", and they'll be all smiles and charm personnified. But the moment you let them in they will inform you that they have gained Peaceful Entry and they now have a right to search the house, and even break open doors and locked boxes and cupboards if you don't.
So whatever you do, don't let them in, even if they say it's only to use the toilet or make a phone call, or pretend to have a heart attack (although the right thing to do is get a glass of water and an aspirin and then lock the door behind you before going out to check just in case it's genuine. Well you never know and they are just people after all.

Dirty Bailiff tricks:
There are some bailiffs that will try to break into sheds, garages, greenhouses; they know it's wrong but they don't care.
Also be aware that they can seize cars, motor-bikes and other vehicles parked on or very near your home. Although the Statute of Marlborough sort of indicates the limits of your home from a bailiffs point of view, that won't help you if they find your car outside your next door neighbours house, or the end of the street, and take it away.

How to handle them if you feel you must speak to them:
Politely but firmly refuse to let the bailiff in reminding him of the law, quoting it politely, always be polite.
Offer what you can afford to pay, and if the bailiffs accept your offer, ask them to return to their car, and go out to them and pay them. Make sure you get a receipt. Make sure you keep every piece of paper the bailiff puts through the door.
If the bailiff leaves 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.

The Bailiffs Have Already Gained Peaceful Entry
THIS IS SERIOUS! If you have let them in before, then bailiffs have the right to return to you home and if you don't let them in, they are allowed to break in.
Contact the bailiffs straight away and make an 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.
From this moment on, this is a priority debt because the bailiffs have the right to come back and take away any goods they have listed on a walking possession agreement if you don't pay on time. Make sure you get a receipt for any payments you make to them.
Contact the council and ask them to take the debt back. Ask your local Councillor for help by letter or email, don't simply phone. They know perfectly well what the bailiffs get up to, after all, they probably agreed to the terms of the bailiffs contract, but do keep your cool and be polite.

What can the Bailiffs take:
The bailiffs can take any goods that they presume to be the property of the debtor.
Generally, they don't take items that are rented or hired.

Exempt items:
* "Such tools, books, vehicles and other items of equipment as are necessary for use personally in employment, business or vocation"
* "Such clothing, bedding, furniture, household equipment and provisions as are necessary for satisfying basic domestic needs of the person and family".
The bailiffs have their own idea of what items are necessary for you to keep and what can be taken. You can complain about what the bailiffs take if you feel the items should have been exempt. Although the courts are sympathetic to bailiffs generaly they don't like bailiffs taking exempt items.

Items that don't belong to the Debtor. Can the Bailiff take them?
Although they aren't supposed to - the bailiffs are entitled to presume it's your property if it's in your home, unless you can prove it's not, and even then they can insist that whoever does own it makes a claim in writing.
The bailiffs can only take things which belong to you and/or goods which are jointly owned by you and your partner. If they want to take goods that belong to someone else (your children, partner, lodgers etc.) explain that the goods do not belong to you. If you can, show a receipt or note as proof. The owner of the goods may have to provide a sworn statement in the form of a "statutory declaration" to say this is the case. They cannot take goods which are rented or hired. This includes goods on hire purchase agreements. Show them a copy of your credit agreement if you can.

Hiding or Giving stuff away
If the bailiffs haven't been in, you can hide things or take them somewhere else or give them to someone else for safe keeping; just don't tell anyone about it.
If the bailiffs have already been in and have seized anything it is actually their property from that moment and you are committing an offence by removing goods that they have said they will take. You can hide them but the bailiffs can search for them.

Things BAILIFFS are supposed to do:
They must have with them:-
* written authorisation from the council for them to call. They should show you this if you ask.
They must leave you a copy of:-
* the law setting out their powers and what they can and cannot do. These are the "Enforcement Regulations".
* the charges the bailiffs are allowed to make for each visit. You should check they have not added too much on to your debt.
* any agreement you have actually signed. This will be called a "Walking Possession" agreement and includes a list of goods the bailiffs have warned you they may take.
Don't get too excited though, because there's not much you can do about it if they don't follow any of these procedures to the letter

Dealing with the Bailiffs
Try to make an arrangement to pay the debt at a rate you can afford.
Offer the money directly to the bailiffs, although it is easier to get them to accept your offer if they have never been into your home.
Get a receipt for any money you pay.
Bailiffs cannot send you to prison, although it's surprising just how many try to get people to beleive that they can. If the bailiffs have never been into your home and they will not accept your offer, all they can do is to pass your debt back to the council.
You should try to make an arrangement to pay the council, or they may try other ways of recovering the money, such as taking money out of your wages or your benefit, or even Bankruptcy proceedings if they think you've got enough assets.
If the bailiffs refuse your offer it is important to put the money you have offered aside so you can pay it to the council as soon as the debt is passed back to them. Write to the bailiffs and the council telling them you are saving the money up as the bailiffs have refused to take your payments.
If you are on Income Support, Pension Credit or Job Seekers Allowance, some councils' have a policy for not using bailiffs and will accept an offer from you or agree to accept direct payments from your benefits. Ask your council if they are willing to take the debt back from the bailiffs so you can pay them directly.
* If the council won't help then contact your local councillor and ask them to take it up with the council for you. Explain what hardship you will be in if the bailiffs come to your home and take your belongings.

How Do I Complain?
The Lord Chancellors Department has issued National Standards for Enforcement Agents. These guidelines set out general rules for how bailiffs should behave and what procedures they should follow. You can mention these standards in your complaint but the standards are not enforceable by law.
GET ADVICE FIRST. Bailiffs law is very complex, and even if you think that what they have done is wrong, they may still be acting within the law, and even if they're not, often the law will back them up anyway.
A complaint from you to the County Court can get the Bailiff's certificate withdrawn. Ask your local County court if they have a form for making a complaint. If not, write in to the Court Manager with details. The Court will hold a hearing and can cancel the bailiff's certificate, order compensation and order return of the goods. A bailiff can be fined for collecting without a certificate.
You can complain to the Magistrates Court, and there have been cases recently where the debt has, in effect, been written off when it has been proved that bailiffs have acted illegally. This is done by making a complaint and asking for a hearing. The court can order return of the goods or compensation.
You should complain to the council as the bailiffs are acting as their agent. They can ask the bailiffs to look at your complaint and change their procedures. If the council won't help you could talk to your local councillor who may be prepared to take your complaint up with the council.
You can ask the local Government Ombudsman to look at your complaint if the Council refuse to help you.

BAILIFFS CHARGES - Technically a bailiff who overcharges committs the criminal offence of Fraud - but you'll need to be very persistent to get the Police to do anything about it. Doesn't seem right that does it.......
You may be able to complain about bailiffs charges if you have a good reason to believe they are excessive. The amounts they are allowed to charge for council tax are set out in the schedule on page 5. The amounts they are allowed to charge for council tax are set out on the next page in the schedule. There are lower fees for poll tax collection. These are shown in italics. If you feel you have been charged too much you can complain in writing to the Council and the bailiffs. You may be able to ask the County Court to look at the charges for you.
You can work out what is 'reasonable' by making enquiries on a local basis. For example, if you have been charged £80 for attendance with a van, and local enquires indicate you could hire a van for a morning for £40 this is clearly unreasonable, especially as it is likely that bailiffs will be visiting several properties at once, and many companies own their own vans.
In the first place, complain to the bailiffs themselves. You can tell them you know their charges are excessive and that you will be taking further action if the charges are not reduced to the levels shown in the schedule.
Then complain to the council as the bailiffs are acting as agents of the Council. There have been recent cases that have been taken back in front of the Magistrates Court over these issues, with the result that the councils have been forbidden to take any further recovery action, or in other words, the debt has been written off. So it IS worth complaining, but make sure you've got your facts straight, and do take lots of advice first.
You can apply to the County Court for the costs to be checked. This is called "Taxation". The court can look at a complaint within 12 months. They will decide if the charges are excessive or not. There is a fee to pay to the court for this application. If the court decides not reduce the bill at least 20% you can be liable for the bailiffs firm's court costs. You need legal advice first.

I hope this helps a little.....

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Bailiff Stories