The current regulation of bailiffs - Commons Library Standard Note

Published 26 March 2013 | Standard notes SN04103

Authors: Lorraine Conway

Topic: Civil law

A bailiff is someone authorised to collect a debt on behalf of a creditor. A creditor is someone who is legally owed money. Bailiffs and enforcement officers generally recover money in respect of a debt by seizing goods from the debtor. Where goods are seized, the debtor usually has the opportunity to pay the debt and recover his goods, but if he does not do so, the goods may be sold by the bailiff in public auction. The money recovered is passed onto the creditor. Bailiffs are only entitled to seize certain types of goods, and are not entitled to remove some basic necessities.

A bailiff must be legally authorised to collect the debt on behalf of the creditor. This authority is normally known as a 'warrant' (or 'warrant of execution') if the bailiff is recovering money owed under a County Court judgment. Bailiffs used by the Magistrates Court to collect unpaid council tax, outstanding fines, compensation or unpaid maintenance will be acting on either a 'distress warrant' or a 'liability order' issued by the Magistrates Court.

The law relating to bailiffs is fairly complex, since regulation currently depends upon the type of bailiff that has been employed. This note outlines the different types of bailiffs and enforcement officers, their powers and any relevant limitations to these.

A separate Library note, ‘Crime and Courts Bill [HL] - reform of bailiffs’, SN/HA/6230, provides a summary of the problems identified with the current regulatory system for bailiffs and the background to bailiff reform. It also provides an outline of the Government’s proposed reforms as set out in its consultation paper, ‘Transforming bailiff action’, published on 17 February 2012. Importantly, it considers the new bailiff provisions contained in the Crime and Courts Bill (under the general heading ‘enforcement by taking control of goods’), which seek to amend Part 3 and Schedule 12 of the Tribunals Courts and Enforcement Act 2007. Once these changes are made, the Government has stated that it intends to bring Part 3 into force and with it a new framework for the regulation of bailiffs.

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