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ALL ABOUT BAILIFFS.
Bailiffs have been around for over a thousand years and "distress" (the procedure for bailiffs to seize goods) was so commonplace in the 13th Century ,that the Magna Carta of 1215 gave the English Barons the right to distress even against the King !!
Bailiffs are often described as debt collectors but this is not quite accurate. The crucial difference is that debt collectors cannot take people's goods and sell them to pay what's owed. With rare exceptions, bailiffs enforce court orders and warrants issued by Government departments. These are mostly to do with the recovery of debt but bailiffs also can evict and arrest people.
TYPES OF BAILIFF LAW
Lord Denning in 1982 described distress as an “archaic
remedy which has largely fallen into disuse”. In 1986 the
Law Commission examined distress describing it as “difficult
and distasteful” and further “riddled with intricacy
and inadequacy” If these comments were not serious enough,
he concluded by saying that “with its many uncertainties,
anomalies and archaisms, its useful life is now spent and simply
cannot be resuscitated”.
Sir Jack Jacob remarked also that “it’s very existence
as legal remedy besmirches the very fabric of English Civil Justice”.
They recommended that it be abolished, this of course did not
happen, but in 1988 certain changes were made with the Distress
for Rent Act (1988) being introduced. This had the effect of bringing
desperately needed improvements to the system of Certification
of Bailiffs and at the same time introducing standard legal forms.
Although this new act was welcomed, it nonetheless, was seen as
simply inadequate in comparison to the severe criticisms by the
Law Commission some 2 years earlier.
By February 1991, the Law Commission published a further report
to Parliament with the recommendation that abolition was still
the desired solution…they even included a draft bill for
this very purpose. Nothing further was done on this until July
1995 when the Lord Chancellor announced his intention to make
By 1998 bailiffs law had become hopelessly complex, archaic and
confusing, not at all surprising being that it was a mixture of
common law, statute and case law, much of it dating back to the
medieval times. This had the effect of creating a great deal of
confusion not just to the debtor and legal profession, but to
For this reason, the industry itself welcomed the Lord Chancellors
Department announcement in 1998 that there was to be an independent
review of bailiff law. This resulted in a Green Paper being published
in July 2001 which contained most of the recommendations contained
in Professor Jack Beatson’s paper an “Independent
Review of Bailiff Law”. Although this paper was generally
well received by most, including the enforcement profession, its
intention was to produce a “Single Piece of Legislation”
that would provide fairness to all concerned.
In 2002, the “ National Standards for Enforcement Agents”
was introduced which set a minimum standard which all bailiffs
are expected to comply, but there was a disappointing elements
to this in that it did not include a complaints or appeals procedure
and was merely a voluntary code.
After much consultation, a White Paper was published in March
2003: this proposed to radically reform bailiff’s law, with
its intention being to consolidate legislation into just one single
code together with having one licensing body.
Finally, on 25th July 2006, the government published The Draft
Tribunals, Courts and Enforcement Bill, which includes a single
procedure for taking control of goods and this bill was put into
the Queen’s Speech in November 2006, and is currently being
debated in the House of Lords.
Our company have heard reports that some bailiffs have stated
that this Bill is now legal…..that is not the case. As soon
as we receive any further news on this Bill, we will feature it
on our News section on the front page of this site.
Facts about a Certificated Bailiff.
To collect the following debts, by law the bailiff has to be
what is called a Certificated Bailiff :
• Council Tax,
• Business Rates (NNDR)
• Parking Charge Notices (PCN’s)
• Congestion Charging,
• Child Support Agency
• Inland Revenue
• Customs & Excise (VAT)
• Magistrate Court Fines ( See note)
Note: Please read our section on
Magistrates Court for further information.
There is a process that must be undertaken for a bailiff to gain
a Certificate. At the end of this page there is a link to the
Courts ruling on the process of Certification, but put simply
this would involve the following:
The bailiff, will need to apply to an issuing court for an Application
Form to be completed. The form requires that he disclose his personal
details, provides a recent county court judgment search, a criminal
records search and he must provide 2 references…one of which
should be from the company where he will be working.
He will need to provide proof that he has advertised his intention
to apply to the relevant court for a Bailiff’s Certificate
in the Public Notices section of a local newspaper. This is so
that any member of the public may object to the application if
they consider that he is not suitable to be a bailiff.
He must lodge in court a “Bailiff Bond”, with a value
of £10,000. In nearly all cases, this is an insurance scheme
offered by 2 insurance companies, mainly Zurich Insurance etc.
At the hearing, the bailiff will need to demonstrate to the Judge
that he has sufficient knowledge of bailiff’s law to enable
him to act. Once he is satisfied, the Judge will issue a Certificate.
It is important to note that the Judge will personally sign the
certificate. It will also be stamped with the court’s official
seal. The certificate will resemble an ID card, with the obvious
exception that it is personally signed by the Judge and has the
The Bailiff’s Certificate last for just 2 years. If the
bailiff changes employers or his personal details change during
the 2 year period, he must surrender his certificate and a new
one will be provided to him with the necessary changes made. There
is no fee for this.
Astonishingly, the majority of people who have contacted us over
the years have never been shown a Certificate; instead they are
shown a simple Identity Card. This does not give him authority
to levy on goods.
By clicking below you will see the relevant Statutory Instrument
relating to an application to become a Certificated Bailiff:
THE DIFFERENT TYPES OF BAILIFFS.
There are three main types of bailiff and an officer of the Supreme Court called the Tipstaff. As the Tipstaff does very specialist High Court enforcement, we do not need to consider him further.
Private Bailiffs (Certificated Bailiffs
Certificated bailiffs are granted a certificate by a County Court
Judge which allows them to Levy Distress. The certificate lasts
for just two years and authorises the bailiff to levy distress
anywhere in England and Wales. To obtain a certificate, the applicant
must satisfy the Judge that he is a “fit and proper person”
to hold a certificate, and that he has a sufficient knowledge
of the law of distress, and also that he is not in the business
of buying debts. They must also provide two references, undergo
a criminal records check, a County Court Judgment check and finally,
provide a security bond of £10,000. This final requirement
normally being an insurance bond.
They are not officers of the court and are not employed by the
court. However, they are seen as representatives of the court
because they act under the authority of a Certificate issued by
the court. The court therefore exercises, under the certification
process, a certain amount of control over the standards of competence
and conduct of these bailiffs. Other than that, there is no formal
regulatory structure of Certificated Bailiffs, although those
that are members of the Certificated Bailiffs Association are
subject to the complaints procedure of that body.
Only Certificated Bailiffs can carry out distress for rent, council
tax, non-domestic rates and parking fines, child support agency
County Court Bailiffs
County Court Bailiffs are civil servants employed by the County Courts where they are based and they enforce county court orders and the orders made at tribunals that have been transferred to the county court for enforcement. County Court Bailiffs are managed by senior staff at the County Court but also responsible to the District Judge for their actions. (see section 123 of the Courts Act 1984)
High Court Enforcement Officer( formerly
There are approx: 70 high court enforcement officers. They are private sector bailiffs appointed to enforce High Court orders and any county court order that the creditor transfers to the High Court for enforcement.
The rules governing their appointment are set out in the County Courts Act 2003 and the rules made under it. High Court Enforcement Officers can ask anyone to act as their bailiff.
Fines Offficers and Civilian Enforcement Officers (CEO's)
These are employed by the Magistrates Court under the provision of Section 92 of the Access to Justice Act 1999 and the Magistrates Courts (Civilian Enforcement Officers) Rules 1990 and the Courts Act 2003. These "bailiffs" are able to execute a range of warrants including distress warrants and warrants of arrest, and commitment for non-payment of fines and other sums a court had ordered to be paid. In addition, they can also enforce warrants of arrest for breaches of community sentences.
For further details on the powers that are available to them, you will need to refer to our section entitled: Magistrate Court on the front page where we have provided further information.
Note: There a few other people who have the same sort of powers as bailiffs and can seize a person's goods. For example, a Collector of Taxes has a right under Section 61 of the Taxes Management Act 1970 to levy distress for both unpaid Income Tax and National Insurance. These are civil servants and are subject to the same recruitment and monitoring standards as all civil servants including county court bailiffs.