What can bailiffs take if I live with parents?

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If you’re struggling with debt and live with your parents, you may be worried about the thought of bailiffs visiting your parents’ home and removing items to repay what you owe.

However, bailiffs can only take items that are fully or partially owned by the debtor and can’t seize items that are owned by other people you live with, including your parents.

What is a bailiff?

If you’ve never been visited by bailiffs, you’re probably expecting the worst based on what you’ve heard from other people or seen in popular media. However, there are certain rules bailiffs must follow when they visit you and they can’t just force entry into your home and start removing goods at will.

Put simply, a bailiff (officially called an enforcement agent) is someone who is authorised by the court to collect unpaid debts on behalf of a creditor (the person or company you owe money to).

They are primarily hired to enforce debts but depending on the type of debt they are collecting, they may also repossess goods and carry out property evictions.

There are four main types of bailiff: a High Court enforcement officer, a County Court bailiff, a certificated enforcement agent, and a civilian enforcement officer.

Is a bailiff the same as a debt collector?

Many people confuse bailiffs and debt collectors but they are not the same and there are some key differences you should know about.

The most important thing to remember is that a debt collector has no special legal power to collect a debt while a bailiff does. This means that a bailiff can take further legal action to get you to repay a debt and is authorised to remove your belongings while a debt collector can only ask you to repay a debt and can’t enter your home unless you invite them in.

There is also a difference between the types of debt they collect. For example, debt collectors are usually hired to collect commercial debts, such as personal loans, credit cards, and overdrafts, while bailiffs mainly collect unpaid court judgments and government and council debts, such as council tax bills, child maintenance arrears, and criminal fines.

When someone visits you to collect payment on a debt, you should ask to see proof of their identity. Some debt collectors will say they are bailiffs to convince you to let them inside, but you should be able to identify a bailiff by the enforcement agent certificate or official ID card that they carry.

What is a controlled goods agreement?

If you can’t repay the debt in full, enforcement agents will usually let you repay the debt in smaller instalments by creating something called a ‘controlled goods agreement’.

This is a payment plan that outlines how you plan to repay the debt and lists items that the bailiffs will return and seize if you stop making payments as agreed. Once the debt has been repaid in full, your items will be released from the bailiffs control.

The aim of a controlled goods agreement is to allow you to pay the debt at a reasonable pace while retaining ownership of your belongings. If you miss a payment, the bailiffs will be free to seize the listed goods and sell them at auction.

For a controlled goods agreement to be valid, both you and the bailiffs must sign it and agree to stick to the terms and conditions.

What items can bailiffs take?

When a bailiff visits you, they will start looking for items they can sell to repay the debt. However, they can’t just take anything they like and must stick to certain rules when looking for belongings to seize.

Most bailiffs will look for luxury items that are likely to sell quickly and fetch a good price at auction. This includes televisions, game consoles, jewellery, and vehicles.

They can also only take items that they can physically touch and remove. This means that, if you’ve not given them permission to enter and there is a physical barrier between them and the item, they can’t legally remove it.

What items can bailiffs not take?

It’s equally as important to know what items bailiffs can’t take when they visit you. This can help you know whether bailiffs are following the right regulations when carrying out their debt enforcement duties.

Put simply, bailiffs can’t take any items that you need to maintain a reasaonable standard of living or that would leave anyone in the household short. This includes white goods (e.g. cooker, microwave, or fridge), vehicles or tools that you need for work or study worth up to a value of £1,350, and pets or guide dogs.

They also can’t take items that are fully owned by other people living at the property, such as your parents, children, or roommates. They can, however, seize any items that you jointly own.

Can bailiffs remove something I’m paying for on finance?

There’s a common misconception that anything on finance is off-limits to bailiffs, but this isn’t exactly true and depends on the type of arrangement you have.

For example, if you have a conditional sale or hire purchase vehicle, you don’t own the item until after you’ve made the final payment. Therefore, if you’re still making payments on it, the item is still owned by the company you are leasing it from and bailiffs shouldn’t remove it.

However, if you purchase goods on credit or with a personal loan or credit card, bailiffs can remove the items as they technically belong to you already.

If you’re not sure what type of arrangement you have, check your paperwork or contact the company you’re in a credit agreement with.

Bailiffs have removed goods from my home that they shouldn’t have. What do I do?

If bailiffs have removed goods that they shouldn’t have during a visit to your home, you have the right to make a complaint. This can range from a computer owned by someone you live with (third-party goods) to a vehicle registered to a disabled person (exempt goods).

When this happens, you must contact the bailiffs as soon as possible explaining that the goods were exempt and why they shouldn’t have been removed from your home. The bailiffs should return the items after you complain but if they don’t, you should complain to your creditor directly by sending them the same evidence.

If the goods have been sold by the time the complaint is received or while legal action is in progress, the bailiffs must hand over 100% of the proceeds made from the sale to the court. However, bailiffs will only be held liable for the mistake if it can be proven that they knew the goods belonged to someone else or they had been notified that a third party had applied for repossession before selling them.

What can bailiffs take if I live with parents?

As previously mentioned, bailiffs can only take items that you own outright. This means that, if you live with other people, none of their belongings can be seized to repay your debt – including your parents.

However, bailiffs can take items that you jointly own with other people (e.g. vehicles or furniture).

When enforcement agents remove jointly owned items, they will ask the other person what percentage of the item they own and split the proceeds of the sale accordingly.

Remember, simply sharing an address or being related to someone does not automatically make them liable for your debt and bailiffs should never take valuable items that belong to someone else just because they live with you.

What if I have no items for a bailiff to take?

Depending on your situation, you may have little to no items of value that can be taken to repay your debt. This may be because you moved in with your parents due to unforeseen circumstances, such as a job loss or breakdown of a relationship, and didn’t have time to take your belongings with you.

If this is the case, it’s important to note that most bailiffs won’t simply give up and stop chasing you for the debt. Instead, they will likely go back to your creditor and ask them what they should do next and this can include further legal action.

Furthermore, you will be charged for bailiff action regardless of whether or not items end up being seized from your home. The longer you don’t repay the debt and bailiffs have to keep returning, the higher the fees will be.

Can bailiffs take items from my parents house to repay my debt if I don’t live there?

If bailiffs have turned up at your parent’s home and are threatening to seize their belongings for payment of your debt, you must contact the bailiffs or bailiff company as soon as possible with evidence that you don’t live there.

Alternatively, you can ask your parents to send a copy of their council tax bill showing that you don’t live there. This should result in bailiff action being stopped in its tracks or, at the very least, delayed until bailiffs try to find an updated address for you.

Again, if bailiffs have already removed items from your parents home to repay your debt, you should complain to the bailiff company or your creditor directly with proof of why the items shouldn’t have been taken.

Conclusion

If you’re in debt and live with your parents, it’s normal to be worried about which household items might be taken to repay your debt.

However, it’s important to know that that bailiffs can only take items that are owned outright by the debtor and shouldn’t seize goods that are owned by anyone else you live with, including your parents.

If you’re worried about bailiff action or don’t know what your next steps should be, don’t hesitate to seek free, confidential debt advice from a debt charity or organisation like Citizens Advice.

Maxine McCreadie

Maxine McCreadie

Author/Debt Expert

Maxine McCreadie, prominent personal finance writer featured in Vogue and Yahoo News, delivers practical guidance, simplifying money management and championing financial literacy.

How we reviewed this article:

HISTORY

Our debt experts continually monitor the personal finance and debt industry, and we update our articles when new information becomes available.

Current Version

June 12 2024

Written by
Maxine McCreadie

Edited by
Ben McCormack

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