Magistrates Court bailiffs
Most Magistrates Courts will use private bailiff firms to collect fines by taking your goods and selling them to pay the fine. This is known as a ‘warrant of control’.
You should be given seven clear days’ notice that the bailiffs are due to visit you. This is often known as the ‘enforcement notice’. ‘Clear days’ does not include Sundays, Christmas Day or bank holidays.
The warrant of control once issued, gives the bailiffs the right to try to take control of your goods. Although, they cannot actually do this until the time limit on the notice of enforcement has run out. In practice, the bailiffs may still be able to take control of your goods as they could try to take control of them at the place you have moved them to once the time limit has passed.
The fines officer is able to recall the bailiff’s warrant to the magistrates’ court if the person with the fine is seen as ‘vulnerable’ for example you have a physical disability or a mental health condition. You will need to provide medical evidence with your request, which should be in writing to the fines officer. You should keep a copy of your letter.
Powers of Entry
Bailiffs do not always have the power to break into your home and, normally, the best course of action is not to open the door as they may try to push past you. They could also obtain legal entry by peaceful means, by getting in through an open door, or by you letting them in.
Bailiffs instructed to collect certain magistrates’ court fines have the power to break into your home and other premises to take your goods, even if they have not been in before. The rules state that this power should only be used if it is reasonable to do so, and a bailiff should seek the court's permission to do so. If the relevant court staff are not available at the time , the bailiff can use their own discretion.
You should pay the debt in full or arrange instalment payments with the bailiff (if at all possible). The bailiff will be seeking full payment ideally, so usually ask for high instalments as they have time limits in which to recover the debt.
Control of goods
Goods outside of your home, such as vehicles , are 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.
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.
Magistrates' Court bailiffs 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.
Goods owned by another person - A bailiff should not take control of goods that are rented or owned by another person, only goods belonging to the person named on the Magistrates’ Court fine. You should explain to the bailiff that the item does not belong to you. 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 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.
The bailiff can only take control of goods that belong to you (the person named on the fine). If a jointly owned item belongs to you and your partner, 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.
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 goods agreement, you will be committing an offence if you remove those goods.
Payment by instalments
Some bailiff firms are able to accept instalments on the fines outstanding, and others will only accept payment of the total amount owed. It is worth writing to the bailiffs, enclosing a budget summary and asking them whether they will accept instalment payments. Send a copy of your letter and budget summary to the magistrates’ court.
If the bailiffs will not accept the payments you are offering, save up the money to take to any hearings in the Magistrates’ Court to prove you are willing to pay.
Any sum of money you pay to the bailiffs may come off their costs first before going towards the fine. However, when a fine is returned to the court the bailiffs costs may not be enforced by the court.
The following is the fee structure for Magistrates’ Court 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.
If you don’t think the bailiffs have correctly followed procedures or if they have not behaved properly you could address your complaint directly to their office.. 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.
When you make a complaint, do it in writing, obtain a copy and send a copy to the Magistrates Court.
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.
Most private bailiffs should be certificated. To check the courts register of certificated bailiffs visit https://certificatedbailiffs.justice.gov.uk/