Page last updated at 11:20 GMT, Monday, 5 March 2007

What to do when the bailiffs come

Bailiff outside a property
Bailiffs want your money - but what are your rights?
With fines and debts worth millions of pounds going unpaid every year, bailiffs are busy as never before.

BBC News examines what you do and what rights you have when a bailiff knocks on your door.

If you are having problems paying a fine, contact the court or relevant organisation and try to negotiate with them.

If they don't know your situation, they could assume the worst - that you have no intention of paying.

Once it reaches this stage, the debt could be passed to a debt collection agency or a warrant might be issued by a court which authorises a firm of bailiffs to try to recover the debt from you.

How to pay a bailiff

Bailiffs recover money that people owe to their clients.

They will ask for a secure method of payment - cash, debit or credit card.

If you pay by card, you will also have to pay a handling fee.

If a bailiff visits your home, you will have to pay a fee. Fees are set at different rates according to the type of debt and court.

Are they allowed in?

Since 2004 bailiffs have had the legal right, in some circumstances, to force entry to seize your goods to recover the money you owe.

That applies to fines, fixed penalties enforced by magistrates courts, or income tax arrears.

For all other debts, bailiffs do not have the power of forced entry to seize goods.

That applies to debts being enforced by county court judgements, civil parking penalties enforced via Northampton County Court, council tax arrears and demands for business rates.

Bailiffs are only entitled to take your belongings if they have the appropriate written authority - for example, a warrant issued by a court or, in certain cases, a creditor.

Note though, the bailiffs do not actually need to show you written proof of the court order when they turn up, though it is a foolish bailiff who does not have the necessary paperwork with them.

Seeking advice

If bailiffs take your belongings, the company you owe money to can sell your goods at auction, perhaps for only a fraction of their value.

However, they should leave basic household items such as beds, clothing and items of equipment you need to do your job.

More fees will be charged for removing, storing and selling your belongings.

The law on bailiffs is very complicated and rules depend on what the debt is and who you owe it to.

At most stages of the debt recovery process, there are opportunities to negotiate.

Contact your local Citizens Advice Bureau for advice relating to your specific circumstances.

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