So you’re in the brown sticky stuff and the bailiffs are knocking on your door. So besides pocketing your smart phone in your (brown) trousers and stashing your gold (in the time honoured stash place), what can you friendly neighbourhood Bitterwallet team do to help you in this sticky situation?
Well, debt advice charity the Money Advice Trust has launched an initiative to encourage consumers to stand up for their rights against bailiffs. After having first found out what they are, of course.
Bailiffs are commonly used to collect council tax arrears or to enforce a court judgment, but they can also used to collect parking fines and penalties, tax debt, or child support arrears. Once a bailiff has gained entry by peaceable means, they can return to take your goods and break in if you don't let them in.
However, contrary to popular opinion, bailiffs are not vampires and do not need an actual invitation to gain entry by peaceable means- leaving a door or window unlocked is all the access they need, and once they’ve been in once, they can come back to take your stuff.
But even the conscientious door closers among you may instead be faced with bailiffs who try to blag their way into a property. Some of the most common techniques witnessed by National Debtline are:
"Can I come in to use your toilet?";
"I'm from the local council, can I come in?";
"We have a warrant, so you have to let us in."
You can even share your best lines on that Twitter using the imaginative #bailiffblags hash tag. If you have nothing better to do.
Joanna Elson OBE, Chief Executive of the Money Advice Trust, said: "The rules and regulations around bailiffs can be quite complicated and so it is not fair to expect your average person in the street to know all the specifics. However there are some rules of thumb that are very useful to be aware of, and one of those is to not let the bailiffs in your property. This means locking doors and windows, and not falling for some of these blags.”
The rules are complicated, and even the Office of Fair Trading recently came up with some new rules on debt collection, handily summarised for us by Len.
"The most important thing is to get some free advice immediately. Organisations like National Debtline and CCCS can talk you through your rights over the phone, even whilst the bailiff is waiting outside," added Ms Elson, conveniently.
Of course, you are all probably far too sensible to be faced with a fictitiously-full-bladdered bailiff, but just in case you are, Money Advice Trust’s Top Five Tips are:
> If the bailiffs have not been into your home before to collect this debt, they have no right to come in. They cannot break in. You can choose not to let them in;
> By law the police should not force you to allow a bailiff in. Bailiffs will sometimes call the police and ask them to force you to let them in, as many police are unaware of the complex laws and regulations involved;
> Don't sign anything. 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;
> Except in rent arrears cases, bailiffs cannot take goods which are rented or hired or that belong entirely to someone else. This includes goods on hire purchase agreements.