Top five bailiff and eviction ‘need-to-knows’ as 6 million fall behind on coronavirus bills – Citizens Advice Press Release.

This Sunday (23 August), the temporary ban on eviction for renters and the ban on face-to-face collection of debts were due to come to an end. As from yesterday the eviction ban has been suspended until September 25th. Nevertheless, concerns remain as 6 million people fall behind on coronavirus bills and face-to-face debt collection is still scheduled to resume next week.

Experts from Citizens Advice’s debt and housing teams have answered some frequently asked questions for people likely to be affected by these changes.

1. Can a bailiff visit my house to take my belongings?
Lorraine Charlton, debt expert at Citizens Advice, says:
“Bailiffs haven’t been able to visit your house since 27 March, but can do so from Sunday.
“All bailiffs should send you a letter before they visit, to check if you’re more vulnerable because of coronavirus. They should also follow government guidance on social distancing.
“Many bailiffs have also made a voluntary commitment to take into account vulnerability or financial hardship caused by coronavirus and refer people to debt advisors in those circumstances.
“If they’re collecting debts owed to your local council, court fines or child maintenance
they should give you 30 days’ notice before they visit. They shouldn’t enter your home to take your goods – they should only talk to you, collect money or give you documents.”

2. What should I do if I think the bailiffs are breaking the rules?
Lorraine Charlton, debt expert at Citizens Advice, says:
“Sadly, we saw many examples of bailiffs not following the rules before the coronavirus outbreak. We hope that they’ll stick to the new guidance, but this might not be the case.
“If bailiffs break the rules around entering your home, take, or threaten to take, things they shouldn’t, or refuse a reasonable repayment offer you should complain.
“You should also complain if bailiffs harass you or act aggressively, including using threats or intimidation, offensive language or visit, text or call you repeatedly..
“You should complain to the organisation you owe money to, as well as to the bailiff company concerned. Complaining won’t cancel your original debt, but it can give you a chance to deal with it in a way that suits you.”

3. I was being chased by bailiffs before lockdown – when will I have to pay?
Lorraine Charlton, debt expert at Citizens Advice, says:
“Bailiffs usually have 12 months to collect a debt, from the date they send their first letter to you. This letter is called a ‘notice of enforcement’.
“If the 12 month deadline fell during the period of the ban on visits i.e. the notice of enforcement is dated 27 March 2019 to 22 September 2019, then the bailiffs will automatically have an additional 12 months to collect the debt. Speak to your local Citizens Advice about the best way to deal with this extension.
“If the bailiff has already been into your home and listed things you own, you need to carry on making agreed payments. If you can’t afford to pay, contact the bailiff and the organisation you owe money to, and speak to your local Citizens Advice.”

4. What should I do if I’m served an eviction notice?
Amy Hughes, Senior Housing Expert at Citizens Advice, says:
“The restart of eviction proceedings will be very worrying for those tenants still reeling from the effects of the coronavirus pandemic on their finances.
“You should act straight away and start gathering evidence such as receipts for rent paid or any communications with your landlord.
“Landlords have to give you notice before they can apply to court for a possession order. For most tenancy types this notice must now be 3 months. There are some exceptions – for example if you are a lodger living in the same house as your landlord they do not have to get a court order evict you and can give less notice.
“For proceedings halted by the possession ban, your landlord must serve a ‘reactivation notice’ on both you and the court.
“If your landlord tries to force you to leave without a court order, this will be a criminal offence.
“If a possession order had already been made against you before 27 March 2020, then your landlord may apply for this to be enforced when the ban comes to an end. You should receive 14 days notice of the eviction date and will need to seek immediate advice.”

5. What should I do if I am struggling to pay my rent after the eviction ban ends?
Amy Hughes, Senior Housing Expert at Citizens Advice, says:
“It’s really important to speak to your landlord and tell them your situation. It might help to tell your landlord why you have fallen behind with your rent, for example, if you have been furloughed, or lost out on work.
“See if you can agree to a repayment plan to pay off your rent arrears. This would mean making smaller payments to your landlord over a longer period of time. Don’t offer to pay more than you can realistically afford.
“If your landlord doesn’t agree to a payment plan, keep a record of what you offered to pay and your communication with your landlord.
“If you get Housing Benefit or Universal Credit and you can’t pay your rent, you might be able to get a ‘Discretionary Housing Payment’ from your local council to help pay. If you’re struggling, you should also make sure to check you’re getting all the benefits that you’re entitled to.”

Notes to Editors
1.Citizens Advice includes the national charity; the network of independent local Citizens Advice charities across England and Wales; the Citizens Advice consumer service; and the Witness Service.
2.Citizens Advice is the statutory consumer advocate for energy and post. We provide supplier performance information to consumers and policy analysis to decision makers.
3.The Citizens Advice Witness Service provides free, independent support for prosecution and defence witnesses in every criminal court in England and Wales.
4.Citizens Advice offers Pension Wise services at 500 locations in England and Wales.
5.Citizens Advice’s services are free, independent, confidential and impartial, and available to all regardless of race, gender, disability, sexual orientation, religion, age or nationality.
6.To get advice online or find your local Citizens Advice, visit citizensadvice.org.uk
7.For consumer advice, call the Citizens Advice consumer service on 0808 223 1133 or 0808 223 1144 to talk in Welsh.
8.We helped 2.6 million people face to face, by phone, email and webchat in 2017-18. For service statistics see our monthly publication Advice trends.
9.Citizens Advice staff are supported by over 23,000 trained volunteers, working at over 2,500 locations in England and Wales.

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