AN encounter with a bailiff is not always pleasant. For some consumers, bailiffs can be a nightmare, especially, when they turn aggressive and their presence becomes threatening.
A bailiff is authorized by law or a magistrate to act as an “officer of the court”.
A bailiff can collect debt, a fine or carry out an eviction for the landlord. A credit-provider also hires the service of a bailiff to repossess goods under hire-purchase agreement.
While, bailiffs have powers to act as enforcement agents, they cannot just forcibly walk into your home as and when they like.
Bailiffs cannot visit you between sunset and sunrise or on any Sunday, Good Friday or Christmas Day.
Bailiffs have to provide their ID cards if you ask them. You can also request for the court order and the bailiff’s certificate or license, which will carry the termination date of their appointments.
A court order is a document that will have a stamp of the court which outlines what the order is for and what the bailiff is required to do.
If uncertain, consumers can seek further clarification from the organization that has sent the bailiff.
However, there are some bailiffs who have pocketed the debt they had collected on behalf of their clients. Two such cases have come to light.
In December 2015, Joseph purchased a vehicle with the assistance of the finance provided by a lending agency.
The total amount payable as per the loan agreement was $19,540. Joseph worked as a contractor and relied on his earnings to make repayments.
Unfortunately, he fell ill early this year which prevented him from carrying on with his routine work. This led him to default his account repayments. Bailiff’s action was soon instigated against him by the creditor.
The bailiff visited him in April, and Joseph paid $1140 within a period of three days to clear off his arrears. To Joseph’s dismay, he kept receiving remainder calls from the creditor and had a visitation by a different bailiff. Upon making an enquiry, the credit-provider advised Joseph that his account was still in arrears as the bailiff sent earlier did not remit the funds to the company.
Joseph filed a complaint with the Consumer Council of Fiji. The creditor did not wish to take any responsibility for the payments made to the bailiff.
The creditor in turn expressed that the bailiff was engaged to serve Joseph with only the repossession notice and was instructed not to collect cash.
In another case in June 2014, Latchmi purchased items on credit from a hire-purchase company.
As per the hire-purchase agreement, the total amount payable had been $1148.29. As Latchmi had arranged for direct bank deductions, she had expected that her repayments would be made in a timely manner.
Unfortunately, on many occasions, Latchmi had overdrawn the funds in her bank account which prevented the direct deduction to be made.
Latchmi only realised that her account was in arrears after a bailiff visited her in April 2015.
To prevent repossession of her items, she paid $679.10 to the bailiff between the months of April to June 2015.
She then ran a check with the creditor to enquire on the status of her account. Surprisingly, Latchmi was advised that the payments made to the bailiff was not updated in her account.
A much distressed Latchmi, lodged her complaint with the council. We negotiated with the creditor, who has now reversed the account balance.
Consumers or businesses having issues with bailiffs can lodge complaints to the legal authorities who had appointed them.
These are the Magistrates Court Registry/Chief Registrar’s Office. Complaints can also be lodged at the Council.
This article first appeared in The Fiji Times on June 18, 2016.