Council Tax Arrears - Taking Control of Goods

Overview

Once you have a liability order for council tax arrears and you have not made a reasonable agreement to repay, further enforcement to recover the debt is the next step. Local authorities can instruct bailiffs (enforcement officers) to work in the capacity of collecting your council tax arrears. There are different rules for bailiffs recovering other types of debt, this information only covers council tax arrears.

Bailiff action

Local authorities instruct bailiffs (normally a private bailiff firm) to act on their behalf. Bailiffs can try to remove your possessions to sell at auction at a later date. The process used is ‘taking control of goods’.

Bailiff entering my home

You have the right to refuse entry to a bailiff, although the visit can be stressful, you should try to be firm and polite when not opening the door to them. You should also check their identification (ID) and ask the Bailiff to pass their ID through a letterbox. A bailiff can only visit between 6am and 9pm.

Bailiffs sometimes wear body cameras while on duty and may record what you say and do during a visit. If you do not let the Bailiff in, your debt is likely to increase with the fees they will charge to visit you again.

If you are able to make an offer of payment and it is accepted, ask them to return to their vehicle and take the payment to them, ensuring you receive a receipt.

The bailiffs cannot force their way into your home, unless the following applies:

  • On a previous visit you have allowed them to enter your home
  • They have a control of goods agreement and you have broken the terms; and
  • You have been given two clear days notice

If you have not allowed the bailiff access previously you should do the following:

  • Keep your doors locked (even if you are not home a bailiff can enter your home through an unlocked door)
  • Keep your windows closed

First bailiff visit

On their first visit to your home, the bailiffs don't usually remove goods. Their aim is to write an inventory of certain goods and ask you to sign a controlled goods agreement. This means, you will be allowed to keep the goods listed in the agreement, within your possession and carry on using them, providing you do not breach the terms of the agreement. The bailiffs can return to your home and break in if necessary if the terms of the agreement have been breached by you. However they must give you two clear days notice before doing so. It is important to note, that if you refuse to sign the agreement , you risk the bailiffs removing your possessions on the day or they may lock up the goods on your premises.

Bailiffs collecting on behalf of the local authority for non-payment of council tax should not take the following:

  • Goods that are worth more than you actually owe
  • Clothing, bedding, furniture and basic household items that are necessary to satisfy the basic domestic needs of you and your household
  • Tools, books, telephones, computers, vehicles and other items of equipment that are necessary for your use for your job, business or education, of up to a value of £1,350
  • A cooker or microwave
  • A refrigerator
  • A washing machine
  • A dining table and chairs for you and your household
  • A television that is in use (don't switch it off!)

If the bailiffs do take control of goods that are protected, you are able to make a court claim for the goods to be returned to you.

Bailiffs visiting vulnerable persons

There are additional rules for bailiffs visiting vulnerable persons to recover debt:

  • Bailiffs may not take control of goods when the vulnerable person is home alone
  • The local authority must be prepared to take cases back from bailiffs when they discover a person is vulnerable

The Ministry of Justice publishes Taking Control of Goods National Standards 2014, paragraph 77 lists groups that may be considered vulnerable:

  • The elderly
  • People with a disability
  • The seriously ill
  • The recently bereaved
  • Single parent families
  • Pregnant women
  • Unemployed people
  • Those who have obvious difficulty in understanding, speaking or reading English

Paragraphs 70 to 78 cover vulnerable situations, please view the standards here:

https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/bailiffs-and-enforcement-agents-national-standards

Assessing goods

Vehicles

Goods outside of your home, such as vehicles , are also at risk. Your vehicle (if you have one) should be kept in a locked garage. If you park the vehicle on your drive, it could be clamped. If you decide to park the vehicle away from your home, on a public road, you risk the vehicle being clamped and removed if the bailiff finds it.

Goods owned by another person

A bailiff should not take control of goods that are rented or owned by another person, unless the person is also named on the liability order. You should explain to the bailiff that the item does not belong to you and you and you will need the owner of the goods to provide a receipt or provide a sworn statement, called a statutory declaration

If goods that belong to another person are taken, that person would need to write to the bailiff explaining that they own the goods. The bailiff will then inform the local authority who will make the decision as to accept or reject that person's claim. If the claim is rejected by the local authority the person can make an application to the court, but will be required to pay a deposit. The amount of the deposit will vary depending on the value of the goods.

Joint possessions

The bailiff can take control of goods that belong to you and any person named on the liability order. If a jointly owned item belongs to you and your partner and your partner is not named on the liability order, they can take the goods, but they will only be entitled to the value of your share of the goods.

Goods of no or little value

Sometimes the goods you own are not worth enough to cover the cost of the bailiff coming back with a van to remove and sell them. In this situation they will have twelve months from the date of the enforcement notice to take control of your goods. However they are likely to agree instalments on the debt. If you do not pay, then the twelve months will start when the arrangement has been broken.

The bailiffs should not take control of goods that are worth more than you actually owe unless there is only one item that the bailiff thinks is worth taking, such as your vehicle.

Hidden goods

If you hide your goods away (for example at another location) and the bailiffs haven’t yet been in they can apply to the court for permission to break into the place where the goods are. If the bailiffs have already been in and obtained a control of your goods agreement, you will be committing an offence if you remove those goods.

Bailiff procedures

Legally certain procedures must be followed by a bailiff when they are collecting unpaid council tax arrears on behalf of the local authority. They should carry written authorisation from the local authority with them when they visit and the must produce identification, when asked. In addition they must leave you paperwork explaining what they intend to do or what they have done. For example:

  • Their intention to visit you
  • That they have taken control of your goods; and
  • The date they intend to re-enter your premises after a previous entry

Council tax bailiff fees

The following is the fee structure for council tax bailiffs:

  • £75 for being instructed by the creditor, and for carrying out initial checks, investigations and receiving payments
  • £235 to cover visiting and entering the premises and taking control of goods
  • £110 to cover attending your home, to remove your goods for sale, valuing them and arranging for them to be sold
  • The cost of storing your goods which the bailiff has removed
  • The cost of hiring a locksmith, if one is required

If the total amount of debt is over £1,500 or if your goods are later sold at auction, further fees can be charged.

Request a hold

It is possible to request a hold period with a bailiff firm while you take specialist debt advice. If the bailiff firm refuses to stop recovery to allow you time to seek debt advice, you should contact the local authority to see if they will instruct the bailiffs to hold action.

Record of payments

If the bailiffs have not entered your home you could try to arrange a repayment that you can afford and you might find it easier to approach the local authority. Start paying what you can afford and make sure you keep your receipts. You should send them a letter with a copy of your budget. You should keep making payments anyway even if they refuse the offer. The payments will reduce your account and it shows you are willing to pay. Don’t forget to include the council tax reference number, the liability order number and the council tax year the debt relates to each time you make a payment.

If the bailiffs have returned the debt back to the local authority it is important you try to negotiate a payment arrangement as they may try other ways of recovering the money, such as taking money out of your wages or your benefits.

Complaints

If you don’t think the bailiffs have correctly followed procedures or if they have not behaved properly you could address your complaint to the local authority as the bailiffs are acting as their agent.

If your complaint is not dealt with you can escalate the complaint to the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman (LGSCO). Visit www.lgo.org.uk/contact-us or telephone: 0300 061 0614. The LGSCO may not look at the complaint if you are able to ask the County Court to look at it instead, for example, if there is a dispute about who owns the goods. You could also involve your local councillor to take up your complaint on your behalf, with the local authority. When you make a complaint, do it in writing, obtain a copy and send a copy to both the local authority and the bailiff firm.

Contacts

The Taking Control of Goods - National Standards

These are good practice guidelines, setting out the rules and procedures that the bailiffs should follow. Further details can be found at:

https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/bailiffs-and-enforcement-agents-national-standards

The Civil Enforcement Association (CIVEA)

Civea is a trade body which many private bailiff firms belong to. Check to see if the bailiff firm is a member of CIVEA and if so you may be able to make a formal complaint to them. Visit www.civea.co.uk/complaints for a members list and details of how to complain.

Certification

All council tax bailiffs must be certificated. To check the courts register of certificated bailiffs visit https://certificatedbailiffs.justice.gov.uk/

To check the High Court Enforcement register, visit: https://www.hceoa.org.uk/members/authorised-members-directory