Debt Collectors and Bailiffs
Bailiffs and Debt Collectors generally works for private companies, however, there is a distinct difference between them and how they are instructed.
Bailiffs generally act (in respect to Timeshare debts) after the creditor has obtained a judgement from the court in their favour. To find out of you have a judgement registered against you at a particular address the cost is £4 from Trust Online which is operated by The Registry Trust.
Of course bailiffs can be instructed to collect other debts which are not subject to civil court awards, however generally they are acting for such institutions as Councils, HMRC and the like. This said if a bailiff does come to your home, you can be assured they are collecting a debt which has been adjudicated by the courts. If not, and if they represent they are, then this will be a criminal offence.
In respect to Debt Collectors
They act for private companies who have arrangements with other companies, firms, creditors, etc.
They are instructed to collect the purported book debts of the companies who commission them and their services.
Timeshare resorts sometimes sub contract the collecting of their debts this way and others do not. In short it all depends on the particular resort and their policy.
The benefits of using debt collectors is that they are used to dealing with creditors, work on commissions and use no promotion methods, which their client can brush, allowing them to maintain a relationship with the creditor after the debt has been collected.
So debt collectors (in the case of timeshares) are the timeshare resorts’ own agents. They are not bailiffs, are not acting as an officer of the court and have no powers.
When faced with a debt collector it is the last chance saloon for the payment of the purported debt, as if it is not settled the matter will be sent back to the resort for legal action.
Some debt collectors issue legal proceeding on behalf of the resorts and again they are the legal agents of the resort and not officers of the court, again they have no powers only that given to them by the resort.
At times the debt collectors are assigned the claimed debt. In this event the debt has been transferred to the debt collectors and is legally the debt collector’s money (in short the debt collector’s stepped into the shoes of the resort).
For this to occur you have to be notified by the original creditor (the resort). These situations warrant a different approach when considering litigation, however, whilst discussing debt collectors and bailiffs the assignment does not give or transfer any legal right which the resort originally had and in turn what rights the debt collectors have now inherited.
You are not bound to deal with them and can reply to the resort in the event that you have concerns, in respect to the purported debt you have received.
You might want to deal with the debt collectors direct, as they should have all the information to hand and in some cases they can get a resolution faster than dealing with a busy resort office.
Debt collectors demands are confrontational and in a lot of cases their letters contain a lot of “ifs”, “we may”, “we can”, “might be at risk”, “your home could be at risk” – the list is endless.
The letters are designed you make you worried. But when you dive into the content of what they are saying, it becomes apparent that they all puff threats with no substance.
If they claim:-
- Your home is at risk – it’s not, they don’t have a judgement.
- Your goods may be sold to pay off or debt – they are not, as again they don’t have a judgement.
- If you don’t pay this account, action will be taken – they can’t, without the consent of the debtor.
- We may call round to your house – they may, but it will cost them a lot of money and if you ask them to leave and they don’t, they could be arrested.
- This could affect your credit rating – it will not, unless it is a bank and you can’t challenge the debt.
We hope this short list is helpful as these are generally idle threats against events which have not occurred.
If you have forgotten to pay a non disputed debt then you are advised to pay it or make arrangements with the resort or debt collectors. If you dispute the debt or have disputed the debt before the debt was raised, then tell them.
Set out your reasons as to why the debt is disputed. Instruct them to refer the matter to their principles and instruct them not to bother you again or else you will report them to the authorities.
This will not stop them, but you have put them on notice that you will make a report if pushed. If another letter turns up then, write to them and explain that you have warned them in the past and the matter is now being referred to the authorities. Copy them into your letter.
No idle threats, do it and they will leave you alone.
In the event they continue, hand the letter you have sent to a solicitor and he will again write to them explaining they are harassing you. If at this stage they continue then you can injunct them and they will pay the costs, as well as being subject to an investigation by The Office of Fair Trading.
I repeat they have no more rights than the person who claims the debt.
Debt collectors have to act within the law and obey a variety of guidelines set down by The Office of Fair Trading which are listed below and are a useful guide if you are confronted by a debt collectors. See now Citizen’s Advice.
The following is not permitted:
- Calling you at work without permission
- Discussing your debts with an employer or family member
- Refusing to deal with advice agencies
- Pressuring you to borrow more money to pay off debts
- Pretending to have legal powers they do not have
- Adding unreasonable charges
- Continuing to contact you when the debt has been disputed
If Debt Collectors fail and repeatedly fail to follow these guidelines there may be warnings issued, fines imposed, sanctions and/or withdrawal their credit licence.
Although the OFT is now closed down their archived guidance is available for downloading on their web site and is free.
In respect to bailiffs (also known as “Enforcement Officers or Agents”).
Dealing with bailiffs
Firstly it is not a requirement for you to open your front door to a bailiff or let them into your home.
They are not usually allowed to use force to get into your home – e.g. by pushing you out of the way, or obstructing the door with their feet.
Bailiffs are permitted to take things from the grounds of your home – e.g. your boat, car, motorbike etc. So it might be to your long term advantage to assist them and make an arrangement so that future visits and costs are stopped.
Assume you do let them into your home, however don’t pay them or make an arrangement with them. They may take some of your belongings away, so always consider whether to let in the bailiffs as your invitation will have consequences.
In contrast, bailiffs are allowed to force their way into your house if they are collecting such debts as unpaid criminal fines, stamp duty etc., this action however is only approved and actioned as a last resort.
Other than the above, bailiffs are not permitted to:
- Enter your home if only children or vulnerable people are present
- Enter your home between 9pm and 6am
- Enter your home through anything except the door
Before you discharge the claimed sum, or let them into your home to take your things, ask to see:
- Proof of their identity – e.g. a badge or ID card
- A detailed breakdown of their charges
You can pay the Bailiff outside your home – you are not bound to invite them into your home to make a payment. However, if you don’t let them in or agree to pay them you could be at risk:
You should make sure you get a receipt to prove you’ve paid.
If you can’t pay all the money right away, make an arrangement and negotiate the amount you are able to pay. When doing so, make sure you consider that the arrangement will be fixed, therefore apply caution when making the agreement.
Offer to discharge your debt in weekly or monthly payments.
Be aware the bailiff is not obligated to accept your offer.
Bailiffs are permitted (if they have entered your home lawfully) to take goods which belong to you and are non necessity items like TV’s, computers, gaming machines and what they consider luxury items. They are not permitted to take things you need – e.g. your clothes, cooking utensils, fridges, beds, furniture or trade tools and other peoples belongings – (even your partner’s belongings)
You may have to provide some proof as to the disputed ownership if they challenge your position.
Bailiff fees are fixed. However, if you believe that the charges they have applied, you can check them and if wrong they will be refunded to you. Mistakes are rare but do happen from time to time, so it’s always wise to check and have them explain the fees to you.
Complain about a Bailiff
The accepted reasons for a complaint are, in the event the visiting bailiff has broken the rules, e.g. if they:
Threaten, insult or harass you
Unlawfully or unreasonably force entry into your home
Apply incorrect fees
Take goods belonging to someone else for which proof was provided to them
Who should I complain to?
Firstly it might be quicker to address your complaint against the company the bailiffs work for, if you are not satisfied you can report the bailiff and the company to the civil court.
Creditors harassing you?
The list below is an example of creditor harassments. If the creditor tries to do any of the following things to try and get you to pay back the money you owe, or they say you owe, this could and should be considered harassment. They include:
- Using paperwork and logos which give the wrong information, which appear to be official and are not,
- Contacting you several times a day
- Early in the morning or late at night
- Using multiple debt collectors at the same time.
- Not informing you when they have passed the debt to a collection agency
- Pressurising you to make unaffordable payments.
- Ignoring you if you say you don’t owe the money
- Pursuing you on social sites and places you go to in leisure time
- Attempting to embarrass you in public or in public places
- Discussing your purported debt with others, like family members, friends, neighbours, etc
- Falsely claiming to work for the court
- Threatening behaviour towards you and/or your family
- Putting pressure on you to sell your home or take out more credit
- Implying falsehood like your home can be taken away or that legal action can be taken when it can’t.
- Lying to you in respect to false judgements imposed by a court when it is an untruth.
The list can be endless and should be reported to OFT
If any of the above is happening to you it is very important to collect evidence so that the matter is correctly documented.
By doing this, they will be stopped and may lose their entire business model, so always consider that if bailiffs or debt collectors subject people to these practises, their own livelihoods are at risk.
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Last modified: March 11, 2016