Bailiffs gain new power to force entry

IssueDecember 2007 - January 2008
News by David Polden

In another serious loss of our ancient freedoms, some civilians have been given the right to break into our homes, namely bailiffs executing warrants for the removal of our belongings to defray unpaid fines or other civil debts.

This happened in 2005, when the Domestic Violence, Crimes and Victims Act (2004) came into force. Thus we read in “Schedule 4A, Section 3”, “An authorised officer may enter and search any premises for the purpose of executing a warrant of distress issued... for default in paying a sum adjudged to be paid by a conviction.”

Section 5 adds, “An authorised officer may use reasonable force, if necessary, in the exercise of a power conferred on him by this Schedule.”

It is perhaps a moot point as to whether “reasonable force” covers forcible entry and if so under what circumstances, which is perhaps why an attempt is made to clarify the situation in schedule 12 of the Tribunals, Courts and Enforcement Act (2007).

Here the power of bailiffs to forcibly enter homes to distrain goods has been spelled out and extended to cover the distraint of goods to cover all civil debts.

Notice in advance

However bailiffs are required to apply to a judge for a warrant before exercising this power and the debtor must be given notice in advance.

Bailiffs now include threats to forcibly enter homes to distrain goods when demanding payment of overdue fines, but I think in practice they would be loath to exercise this power.

Bailiffs want to earn their commission with the least expenditure of time, energy and risk.

It's not worth their while to pursue determined non-payers beyond a certain point, and this point is very soon reached with moderate fines.

To forcibly enter premises might be seen as a step too far: what happens if they forcibly enter the wrong premises or cause unreasonable damage?

Topics: Civil liberties