Tackling your debts

Do you know your bailiffs from your debt collectors?

Posted 14 October 2014

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Would you know what your rights are if a debt collector called? What about a bailiff? It’s important to understand the differences so you know how to act.

The debt collection industry can be tricky to understand … not least when you’re the person in debt. That might explain why a quarter of people who have been contacted by some form of debt collection agent in the past admit they did not fully understand who it was who was contacting them, according to a new poll carried out for us*.

What are your rights?

Of those Brits who say they have previously been contacted by a person or group claiming to act on behalf of their lenders, not only did a quarter not fully recognise who was contacting them but two-fifths also revealed they didn’t understand the differences between the various types of debt collection agent. These include debt collectors, bailiffs and high court enforcement officers (HCEOs).


Unfortunately, not understanding who is contacting you to chase up your debts means you may not be fully aware of your rights in these situations. It’s vital that you understand what the different debt agents have the power to do so that you know how to act.

Spot the difference

If you receive a phone call or are visited by one or more people claiming to be acting on behalf of one of your lenders, be sure to ask what their job title is. That way you know what their powers are … and what your rights are.


A debt collector is typically hired by lenders to act on their behalf, but they are not court-appointed and so lack certain powers. For example, they are not allowed to force entry to your home or take or sell your possessions.


A bailiff, on the other hand, is appointed by the courts and so has greater legal powers. They can force entry to your home if you have invited them in once before, but can usually only come in with your permission on their first visit. Bailiffs are usually employed to recover outstanding council tax, income tax, court fees or County Court Judgements.


HCEOs, meanwhile, act on behalf of the High Court … as their name suggests. They have many of the same powers as bailiffs and are not allowed to use violence or aggression towards you. They can enforce certain court orders, such as evictions.


You can find out more about the different debt collection agents and their powers here.

Be prepared

If you’re struggling with unpaid debts, it’s worth swotting up on your rights in case someone does pay you a visit. That way you know what to expect … and what you can do about it.


It’s not uncommon to feel worried and isolated when you’re struggling with unmanageable debts, particularly if it’s got to the point where debt collectors or another agent are visiting you at home. If you’re in this situation, there are experts you can turn to who will help you understand your rights and plan a way to get back in control of your finances … so don’t feel as though you have to go it alone.


*OnePoll questioned a nationally representative sample of 2,000 adults aged 18 and over between 12th August and 23rd August 2014, of whom 630 were Scottish.

by Shelley Bowers

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To find out more about managing your money and getting free debt advice, visit Money Advice Service, an independent service set up to help people manage their money.