How to recover damages for trespass by Bailiffs

A few months ago I blogged about the case of my client Mr Bush (name changed for privacy purposes) who was unlawfully arrested by Sussex Police after he refused to allow Bailiffs into his home.

In summary, bailiffs (whose legal title since 2007 is in fact Enforcement Agents) only have a right to force entry to a person’s home on their first visit to the premises if they are there to collect unpaid Magistrates Court fines arising out of criminal convictions. They cannot use force to gain entry to your home if they are pursuing a civil debt only, such as (in Mr Bush’s case) money owed (or allegedly owed) to a utility company.

I explained in my previous blog how Mr Bush was unlawfully arrested by Police Officers after he himself had first called the police because bailiffs in the form of an Enforcement Agent and his assistant were trying to force their way into his home.

Mr Bush had refused entry to the Enforcement Agent, but then when attempting to close his front door found that the Enforcement Agent’s assistant had wedged his foot across the threshold, thereby preventing closure of the door. In my experience, this is a common place, and entirely illegal, bailiff manoeuvre.

Once the bailiffs had been refused peaceable entry by Mr Bush, they should have turned and walked away, but instead they used force to prevent Mr Bush from closing his front door, which he was in fact perfectly entitled to do.

As reported in my previous blog, I successfully recovered damages of £9,000 for Mr Bush for False Imprisonment from Sussex Police who, after receipt of a letter of claim, fully accepted that the Enforcement Agent had not been acting lawfully, and that under those circumstances any person obstructing the bailiffs ie Mr Bush was not committing any offence under the Tribunals, Court and Enforcement Act 2007 and there was therefore no power for the police to have lawfully arrested my client.

Whilst it was pleasing to achieve this victory, that was not the end of the matter because not only had my client been handcuffed and taken from his home by the Police, and locked up at a police station for several hours, but the bailiffs had also (at the time Mr Bush was being detained by the Police) entered his home through the front door which the Police had left open behind them and thereafter remained on the property for several hours, during which time they walked around Mr Bush’s home, threatened to remove goods and extracted by means of those threats a payment of £2,800 in regards to the alleged debt, from Mr Bush’s relatives.

This payment – it should be noted – was subsequently refunded in full by the Bailiff company, but they initially denied any further liability for Trespass to my client’s home.

The Bailiff company initially tried to argue that enforcement of the High Court Writ (the Order in regards to my client’s debt) was carried out in accordance with the Tribunals Court and Enforcement Act 2007.

In response I pointed out that the bailiffs present at my client’s home on the day in question, had manifestly failed to comply with the law, in that they illegally used force in the form of the ‘foot in the door’ manoeuvre to prevent my client from closing the door to them. The fact that this type of action by bailiffs is unlawful was well established in the cases of Vaughan v McKenzie [1969] 1 QB 557 and Rai and Rai v Birmingham City Council [1993].

Mr Bush had made it expressly clear that he was not granting the bailiffs any permission to enter his premises, and at no point did his actions amount to the offence of obstructing an Enforcement Agent. My client was at all times acting within his rights, and displayed no aggression or violence towards either the bailiffs or indeed the Police Officers who subsequently attended.

In my opinion, the bailiffs must have known that they had no right to force entry to my client’s property, and furthermore they were clearly aware that they had refused them entry and that nevertheless (as set out above) they had illegally used force to prevent him from closing the door.

Notwithstanding this, in full knowledge of the fact that my client had refused permission for them to enter his premises, the two bailiffs immediately did so as soon as my client was (unlawfully) arrested and removed from the doorway by the Police Officers who attended.

In such circumstances, it was laughable to suggest that the bailiffs had been granted ‘peaceable entry’ to the property, or that the open doorway left behind when my client was forcibly removed by Police Officers who were using their own powers illegally, was in any way an implied licence for the bailiffs to peaceably enter the house.

In fact the bailiffs must have known that they had expressly no licence to enter my client’s premises, but nevertheless chose to do so as soon as the Police had conveniently moved him out of the way.

I also made strong representations to the Bailiff company that their Enforcement Agent had breached paragraph 20 of the Taking Control of Goods National Standards Guidelines 2014, by falsely implying or stating that a debtor refusing a bailiff entry to a property is a criminal offence (it is not).

Indeed, the illegality of the bailiff’s actions was even worse than that, as when I studied the Sussex Police incident log I noticed that the Enforcement Agent was recorded as having expressly informed the Police that Mr Bush had physically removed him (the Enforcement Agent) and his assistant from the premises – which was entirely untrue. No force whatsoever was used at any point by Mr Bush upon the bailiffs who, indeed, had never actually been on the premises at that point (let alone ejected from them) with the exception of that illegal ‘foot in the door’.

When I pushed back against the Bailiff company’s denial of liability and threatened Court proceedings, I am pleased to report that the Bailiffs quickly came to the negotiating table and agreed to pay to my client a total sum of £2,400 – in addition to the earlier refund of the £2,800 they had illegally extracted from his relatives.

This was a good result, and I am pleased that justice was done without there being any need for protracted Court litigation. The early resolution of this claim was no doubt helped because my client Mr Bush had a very clear understanding of his rights as a home owner and the limits and restrictions which apply to Bailiff’s powers of entry and enforcement; furthermore his partner had made a video showing his interactions with the Bailiffs, and the Police Officers who attended had body worn cameras which also recorded a lot of what proved to be useful evidence regarding the interactions between my client, the Bailiffs and the Police.

It is not always that straightforward. In the absence of video evidence showing ‘what really happened’, and where people who are not so sure of their rights are confronted by Bailiffs who are prepared to ‘bluff’ about the extent of their powers – or indeed even tell bare faced lies about their rights of entry – many people in what is an overwhelming and frightening situation can back down in the face of bailiff threats and may be unaware that the bailiff’s subsequent actions amount to trespass both to their home and their possessions.

I am writing this blog to try to highlight some of the illegal tactics which these Enforcement Agents will use to try to gain entry to private property, and how you in turn can assert your rights either to prevent them from committing trespass, or to seek compensation when they do, whether or not that trespass is with – as in this case – the inadvertent, but not uncommon, connivance of the Police.

Author: iaingould

Actions against the police solicitor (lawyer) and blogger.