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Vulnerable people - treatment by bailiffs
People who are considered to be vulnerable have certain legal protection when bailiffs are taking action against them.
This page explains who might be classed as vulnerable and how a bailiff should behave when dealing with vulnerable people.
If you’re dealing with bailiff action that began before 6 April 2014, different rules may apply. You should get advice from your local Citizens Advice Bureau.
Don't ignore a problem
If you believe you're vulnerable or you're caring for someone who is, you should tell the bailiff and your creditor as early as possible.
Once the bailiff is aware of a problem, they can take any necessary steps to ensure they deal with you fairly and sensitively. This can include delaying the bailiff's action while you have the opportunity to seek advice to help you deal with your debts.
Generally, a person is considered to be vulnerable if it would be unreasonable to expect them to be able to deal with a problem themselves. There is no legal definition of a vulnerable person, but the National Standards for taking control of goods says this could include:
- older people
- disabled people
- the seriously ill
- the recently bereaved
- single parent families
- pregnant women
- unemployed people
- those who have obvious difficulty in understanding, speaking or reading English.
Other people who could be considered vulnerable are people with mental health issues.
How bailiffs must deal with potentially vulnerable people
The law says that bailiffs must:
- ensure that a vulnerable person has the opportunity to get help and advice to deal with the bailiff's action before they take goods or charge fees
- not take certain belongings necessary for older or disabled people
- not take goods where the debtor is a child under 16
- not make a controlled goods agreement with anyone under 16
- not enter a home or premises when only a child under 16 or vulnerable person is present
- not take goods when a child under 16 or vulnerable adult is the only person in the home or premises.
Restrictions on belongings a bailiff can take
A bailiff isn't allowed to take the following belongings that may belong to or be required by people who are vulnerable:
- any item or equipment reasonably needed for the medical care of anyone in your household
- any item or equipment reasonably needed to care for anyone under 18, a disabled person or an older person
- assistance dogs, including guide dogs, hearing dogs and dogs for disabled people
- a vehicle displaying a valid disabled person's blue badge.
Other guidelines for bailiffs dealing with vulnerable people
The National Standards for taking control of goods say creditors and bailiffs have responsibilities to protect those who are vulnerable or socially excluded. They say:
- the creditor and bailiff should have an agreed procedure for how vulnerable situations should be dealt with
- the bailiff should tell the creditor if they come across a debtor who may be vulnerable
- if a child under 16 is in the home alone the bailiff must withdraw but can ask the child when the parent will be in, as long as they don't appear to be under 12
- wherever possible, bailiffs should have arrangements in place for quickly accessing translation services when needed
- wherever possible, bailiffs should provide, if requested, information in large print or Braille for visually impaired people.
The bailiff should be sensitive to your situation and potential vulnerabilities. In some cases, they shouldn't carry on with the bailiff action and should refer the debt back to the creditor.
If you feel you are vulnerable and haven't been treated sensitively, you should complain to the bailiff firm and your creditor.
Bailiff companies or creditors should have their own policy on how their bailiffs should deal with those who may be more vulnerable. You can ask for a copy.
Professional bailiff organisations' code of practice
Some bailiffs are members of an association. The associations have a code of practice that all members must follow. If a bailiff breaks the code, you can complain to the association. The bailiff associations are:
- High Court Enforcement Officer Association
- Civil Enforcement Association.
Other useful information
The full National Standards for taking control of goods can be found at www.justice.gov.uk .
High Court Enforcement Officer Association at www.hceoa.org.uk
Civil Enforcement Association at www.civea.co.uk