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Unpaid fines: What to do when bailiffs come calling

Dealing with debt collectors can be a humbling and distressing experience. Some agencies resort to tactics designed to intimidate, harass, or take advantage of your uncertainty in order to obtain speedy payment.

When the courts are trying to collect payment of a fine, they outsource to a company called Marston Holdings. 

While courts have an obligation to pursue unpaid fines, it’s important to understand the rules that Marston and other collection agencies must follow when communicating with debtors, or attempting to take possession of goods in lieu of payment. 

There are things they’re allowed to do, but many other things they aren’t – particularly when dealing with persons deemed vulnerable under Ministry of Justice rules. 

If you can’t pay a fine due to lack of funds and you’re concerned about bailiffs knocking at your door, forewarned is forearmed.

Know the restrictions on debt collection agents

Marston debt collection agents (what we used to call ‘bailiffs’) have a code of conduct the courts expect them to follow, and national standards set by the UK Ministry of Justice that all debt collection agents must abide by.

When a Marston agent encounters a vulnerable situation, the Ministry’s rules demand that they tread lightly and take steps to ensure that vulnerable and socially excluded people are protected.

Debt collection agents have ‘… a duty to contact the creditor and report the circumstances in situations where there is evidence of a potential cause for concern.’ They must also avoid taking action which could lead to accusations of inappropriate behaviour.

Agents must withdraw from domestic premises if the only person present is under the age of 16, or deemed to be vulnerable by the enforcement agent. They must also withdraw without making enquiries if the only persons present are children who appear to be under the age of 12.

Other groups who might be vulnerable under Ministry of Justice rules include:

  • The elderly
  • People with a disability
  • The seriously ill
  • The recently bereaved 
  • Single parent families
  • Pregnant women
  • Unemployed people
  • Anyone with obvious difficulty understanding, speaking or reading English

Debt collection agents are also expected to provide interpretation services (including British Sign Language) when needed, and be able to provide information in large print or Braille for debtors with impaired sight.

What debt collection agents can’t do

In any situation where your property might be seized, the Taking Control of Goods Regulations 2013 sets out items that debt collection agents can’t remove. Typically these are possessions which are essential to employment, health, and the necessities of daily life. 

Items that can’t be seized include:

  • Equipment or other items which are necessary for use by the debtor in their job, business, trade, profession, or field of study (unless the aggregate value of such items exceeds £1,350).
  • Clothing, bedding, furniture, household equipment, white goods required to satisfy the basic domestic needs of the debtor and every member of their household.
  • Items required for medical care or safety.
  • Assistance aids such as dogs and mobility scooters.
  • Goods that are also premises (e.g. caravans) are exempt if they are also a principal home of the debtor, or someone in their care.
  • Goods that the debtor has in their hands are exempt from seizure, if taking control of them is likely to result in physical confrontation.

Where the debt collection agent is attempting to gain access to a debtor’s home, Marston’s own toolkit for its agents says that in general they are ‘…only able to enter or re-enter a property peaceably, and without false pretences, by any door or any usual means by which entry is gained to the property.

That means bailiffs need your permission to enter, and can only access the property via your normal entrances and exits; e.g. through the front or back door, and not by climbing through an unlocked window.

Marston may however apply to the court for an order to force entry, which may be granted in some circumstances.

Is a debt collection agency chasing you for an unpaid fine? 

Having a debt collection agent on your doorstep looking to inventory or seize your personal property is likely to be upsetting for anyone. For vulnerable people it can be a frightening experience that leaves them feeling powerless, and not equipped to challenge any demands.

If you’ve been contacted by Marston Holdings in relation to an unpaid court fine, consider taking legal advice. 

  • If your vulnerable situation hasn’t been properly addressed by collection agents or you feel you’ve been treated badly, the courts may take that into account. 
  • There may be a case for a reduction if you can provide evidence of low income and minimal assets, or even overturning the fine if there are grounds to believe it is unlawful. 

In each of those scenarios we may be able to help.

As a highly successful firm of criminal defence solicitors, we are experts at resolving such situations. Our advice is free and impartial, and if you wish, one of our fully-qualified solicitors may be able to represent you in court.

If you have a low income or are on benefits, after a successful application for legal aid, we may also be able to represent you free of charge.

For more information, contact us today on 0800 612 7128 (24hr) or visit https://www.cantpaymyfine.co.uk.