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Bailiffs - overview

Bailiffs are now officially called ‘enforcement agents’. They’ll refer to themselves by this name and you’ll see it on letters you get from them.

Bailiffs (‘enforcement agents’) can take your belongings if you haven't paid a debt you owe. If a bailiff comes to your home, you don’t have to let them in. Bailiffs can only force entry to your home to collect unpaid criminal fines, Income Tax or Stamp Duty, but only as a last resort.

When you know a bailiff is coming

You’ll know a bailiff is definitely coming if you receive a ‘notice of enforcement’. You must be given at least 7 clear days’ notice that the bailiff is coming.

Don’t ignore the notice. Bailiffs charge fees, which start adding up as soon as the person you owe money to (your creditor) tells them to act. Your debt will just get bigger if you ignore them.

You should contact them straight away to work out a way to pay the debt off.

If a bailiff comes to your home

You don’t have to let the bailiff in – no matter what they tell you.

The bailiff can’t:

  • come into your home if only children or vulnerable people are there
  • visit you between 9pm and 6am
  • get in through any way which isn’t ‘usual means’ - in most cases this is the door
  • push past you or jam their foot in the door

If you want to keep a bailiff out:

  • ask who’s at the door before you open it if you don’t know who’s there
  • don’t open the door to a bailiff
  • tell everyone in the house not to open the door unless it’s someone they know
  • speak to the bailiff through an open window or go outside to talk to them

If you have unpaid criminal fines, Income Tax or Stamp Duty, bailiffs are allowed to force their way into your home but only as a last resort and following strict rules.

If the bailiff is threatening you or doing something they’re not allowed to, get advice from your local Citizens Advice.

Stop bailiffs taking your belongings

You can pay the bailiff on the doorstep - you don’t have to let them into your home. You can also try and agree a payment plan with them. It will mean you don’t need to lose your belongings and will pay less in fees.

Offer only what you can afford to pay in weekly or monthly payments. If you give the bailiff any money, get a receipt for the payment.

What bailiffs can take

If you let a bailiff into your home, they may take some of your belongings to sell.

Bailiffs can take:

  • luxury items, such as a TV or games console
  • things you own jointly with someone else
  • money, jewellery and antiques

Bailiffs can’t take:

  • essential items, such as your clothes, cooker, furniture and work equipment
  • items that aren’t yours, such as your partner’s computer
  • anything belonging to a child, such as toys

If you don’t let a bailiff into your home and don’t agree to pay them they could take things from outside your home eg your car.

If you don’t want a bailiff to take your car, think about parking it on private land, such as a friend’s driveway, if you can get permission.

If your belongings are taken

Even if the bailiff has taken your belongings you can get them back if:

  • you pay off the debt before the goods are sold
  • you make an agreement with your creditor to repay the debt before the goods are sold and they tell the bailiffs to stop their action
  • you buy the goods back yourself
  • the bailiffs didn't follow the proper rules when they took control of your belongings - you can ask the court to order the bailiffs to give your belongings back

If the bailiff can’t sell your belongings within 12 months of taking control of them, you will have the right to ask for them back.

Fees bailiffs can charge

You’ll be charged a set fee for each stage of the bailiff’s action. The fees are:

  • £75 when your case is first sent to the bailiff
  • £235 if the bailiff comes to your house - this is only charged once, even if they visit you more times than that
  • £110 if the bailiff takes your belongings and sell them

If you owe more than £1,500, the bailiff will add 7.5% of the amount above £1,500 to the total debt.

For example, if you owe £2,000 the bailiff will charge £272.50 if they come to your house - this is the £235 fee added to £37.50 (7.5% of £500).

High Court bailiffs use different fees. Read about High Court bailiffs’ fees.

Bailiffs can also charge you for their extra costs, such as the cost of storing your belongings before they are sold.

If you stop the bailiff action, for example by agreeing a payment plan, you’ll still be responsible for the bailiff’s fees up until that point.

When to complain about a bailiff

Bailiffs have to follow strict guidelines. For example, they should treat you fairly. They are not allowed to threaten you or pretend to have more legal powers than they really have. Bailiffs shouldn't discriminate against you because of your age, race, sex, disability, sexuality, or religion. For example they can’t use racist, sexist or homophobic language.

Bailiffs also have to take special care if you’re classed as a vulnerable person, for example if you’re:

  • elderly
  • disabled
  • a single parent
  • seriously ill
  • suffering from mental health issues

Make sure the bailiff is aware of your situation – they may have to refer the debt back to the person you owe money to.

Depending on the sort of debt you owe, you might be able to complain to:

  • the person you owe money to (the creditor)
  • the professional body the bailiff or creditor belongs to
  • the court
  • the police, if the bailiffs are committing a criminal offence, for example, threatening or assaulting you

If you have reasons to complain about the bailiffs, it's best to get expert help. Don't be ashamed to get help about bailiffs – it's a very common problem.