Bailiffs and debt collectors: Your consumer rights


bailiffsBailiffs and debt collectors can be called in for non-payment of everything from parking fines to credit card bills.

Every year, the DVLA passes bailiffs the details of tens of thousands of drivers who have failed to pay fines, while all the banks and utility companies work with external debt collection firms.

And while most of those affected owe the money concerned, some people are chased and threatened due to simple administration errors.

Either way, being chased by debt collectors or bailiffs can be terrifying – especially if you do not know your consumer rights.

I am being chased by bailiffs. What are my consumer rights?

Bailiffs are only used to collect certain debts, including unpaid Council Tax and parking fines.

To cover these debts, they are allowed to take some of your belongings to sell on to cover what you owe.

They can, for example, take so-called luxury items such as TVs or games consoles, but not essentials such as fridges or clothes.

However, bailiffs can only generally enter your home to do this if you leave a door or window open or invite them in.

If bailiffs come to your door, you are therefore within your consumer rights to refuse them access and to ask for related documents such as proof of their identity, a copy of the court order saying you owe the money and a copy of their ‘authorisation’ to take your things.

And if they try to force their way in, you are also within your consumer rights to call the police to stop them.

That said, it is a good idea to arrange some sort of resolution – such as agreeing to contact the organisation you owe money to directly – as you could otherwise be taken to court for failing to cooperate.

I am being chased by debt collectors. What are my consumer rights?

Debt collectors, who are used to chase money owed to companies in the private sector, do not have the same powers as bailiffs.

They cannot, for example, enter your home and take your possessions in lieu of payment.

In fact, no matter what scare tactics they try, they can only write, phone, or visit your home to talk to you about paying back the debt.

And as with bailiffs, you can call the police should you at any point feel physically threatened by a debt collector.

If you feel that a debt collector is harassing you, or misleading you in a bid to make pay up, you can also lodge a complaint with your local trading standards department against the firm in question.

But contacting a debt charity such as the Consumer Credit Counselling Service (0800 138 1111) or National Debtline (0808 808 4000) to solve the underlying problem should prove even more constructive.

After all, even if you are unable to pay the money owed, you may well be able to arrange a payment plan directly with the creditor under which you pay smaller amounts over a longer period of time.

And that will mean an end to the threatening letters, visits and calls – as well as a way out of debt.