Bailiffs and Debt Collectors - what’s the difference?

When someone asks you to repay money you owe, your first question might not be ‘what’s your job title?’. But understanding exactly who they are and who sent them is a key part of understanding your rights.

Bailiffs
Bailiffs have the right to take away some of your possessions (but not anything that you can’t live / work without) so they can be sold to repay your creditor(s). They could be court officials, or employed by a private firm.

In most cases, bailiffs wouldn’t get involved unless the case had already been to court because you couldn’t come to an agreement with your creditor(s) – although HMRC (Her Majesty’s Revenue & Customs) don’t need a court order to send bailiffs about VAT or income tax debts.

If you owe money for magistrates’ court fines, the bailiffs will have the power to force entry into your home to take away possessions. So will HMRC bailiffs, as long as they have a magistrates’ warrant.

County Court bailiffs (for other debts), can’t take anything behind a locked door (in your home, garage, shed, etc.) on their first visit, unless you let them in or they find an unlocked door or window. Once they’ve been in, however, they will be able to force entry on any subsequent visits in connection with that debt.

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Debt collectors
Although any contact from a debt collector should be treated as a serious matter, they are not bailiffs and it’s illegal for them to pretend that they are. They’re not court officials and they don’t have the right to force entry.

Creditors can instruct debt collectors – or sell them your account – when you fail to pay back a debt as agreed.

If they’re employing the debt collector, they’ll be hoping that you and the debt collector will reach an agreement so there’s no need to get the court involved.

If they’ve sold the debt to the debt collector, your creditor will no longer be actively involved in the matter. The ‘problem’ of getting the money back will be the debt collector’s – and so will the money.

To find out more about the differences between bailiffs and debt collectors, you could use this debt collector fact sheet.

Debt collectors have to follow the same rules as the original creditor. Click here to see the ‘Debt collection guidance’ leaflet from the Office of Fair Trading (OFT).

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