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What rights do bailiffs and debt collectors have?

Bailiffs and debt collectors have different rights. It's important to remember, too, that you have rights when it comes to how your debts are collected.

How do I negotiate with debt collectors and bailiffs?

The idea of a bailiff or a debt collector contacting you about your debts can seem daunting, but you should have a chance to come to an agreement with them.

Debt collectors and bailiffs want to collect the money that you owe and, as such, are likely to accept new, lower monthly payments if they can see it's the best way forward - after all, a lower amount each month is usually seen as better than nothing. However, bailiffs might not have been given the authority to negotiate on the creditor's behalf, in which case you should contact the creditor.

It can help to show them some facts about your current financial situation and explain why you can no longer afford your monthly repayments - for example, if you've had to pay for expensive car or home repairs.

Draw up a budget and let them see how much you have left over each month after you've dealt with your essential costs. You'd need to show them that what you're offering is all you can realistically afford (with a bit of leeway for emergencies).

You can find some more debt help on this page.

If you are already dealing with bailiffs and debt collectors, you may be worried about what they have the right to do.

Debt collectors

What can they do?

They can use the same legal channels as your original lender to pursue the debt. This also means that they have to follow the same guidelines as your lender - and they may consider a new payment plan. They must tell you who they are, what you owe them and other details about the debt.

What can't they do?

•  Pretend that they are bailiffs - debt collectors and bailiffs have different rights.

•  Come to your house without your permission. They should give 'adequate notice to the debtor of the time and date of a visit', as the OFT (Office of Fair Trading) puts it.

•  Ring you at unreasonable hours, or when you've told them not to (if you're a shift worker, for example).

•  Contact your family members about the debt.

•  Contact you at work, or any of your colleagues.

•  Act in a threatening or intimidating manner.

If a debt collector is contacting you, you should seek debt advice.

Bailiffs

What can they do?

Bailiffs are sometimes court officials, or they can be employed by a private firm. They are more commonly used if you are severely behind on your repayments and you and your original lender haven't been able to come to an agreement. Often, your case may have already been to court and a judge has agreed that using a bailiff is the best way to proceed. As such, they have more rights than a debt collector. They can:

•  Take some of your possessions to sell and pay back the money you owe.

•  Force entry into your property (under some circumstances).

•  Take vehicles if they're not locked in a garage.

•  Enter your property through an open door or window.

What can't they do?

•  Take anything that is essential for you to make a living or get by day-to-day. For example, they can't take beds or your fridge, or anything you use for work.

•  Threaten or intimidate you.

What can I do?

A bailiff visiting your house usually means that you are in serious debt troubles.

You may still be able to resolve your debt troubles, however, if you enter a legally binding debt solution such as an IVA (Individual Voluntary Arrangement).

As long as enough of your unsecured lenders accept the proposed terms, an Individual Voluntary Arrangement can allow you to make lower payments each month. You should be confident that you can manage these payments because they will be tailored around your essential costs. Interest and charges on your debts will be frozen, too.

After five years (usually) any remaining debt you have will be written off - as long as you've stuck to the terms of the IVA. There are disadvantages, though - for example, it will damage your credit rating for six years and, if you're a homeowner, you may be required to release some equity.

You should be able to stay in your home and keep your possessions, however, and it could be a big relief not having to think about bailiffs or debt collectors - as long as you live up to your obligations under the IVA, your unsecured lenders won't be able to take any action against you.

If you're interested in resolving your debt problems with an IVA, visit this page to find out if you could qualify

By Matthew Plant.

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Subject to eligibility and acceptance. Fees Payable. Debt write off applies to unsecured debts only and on completion of an IVA, alternative solutions may be offered. If your IVA fails, it could lead to Bankruptcy. Your ability to obtain credit will be affected for at least 6 years. Homeowners may be required to release the equity in their property.