How bailiffs should treat you if you're vulnerable

This advice applies to England. See advice for See advice for Northern Ireland, See advice for Scotland, See advice for Wales

You should tell the bailiffs (also called ‘enforcement agents’) as soon as you can if you’re in a situation that makes it hard for you to deal with them. They could class you as ‘vulnerable’.

If you’re vulnerable bailiffs have to treat you with greater care, including giving you more time to respond to letters or demands. They also shouldn’t enter your home if you’re the only person there.

Check if bailiffs should treat you as vulnerable

You can be vulnerable in lots of different situations, for example if:

  • you’re disabled

  • you’re seriously ill

  • you have mental health problems

  • you have children or are pregnant - especially if you’re a single parent

  • your age makes it hard for you to deal with bailiffs - usually if you’re under 18 or over 65

  • you don’t speak or read English well

  • you're at higher risk of coronavirus

If you're vulnerable because of coronavirus, make sure you tell the bailiff before they plan to visit. If they ask you to prove you're vulnerable, show them your email, phone message or letter from the NHS if you have one. You can check if you're classed as higher risk from coronavirus on GOV.UK.

You can also be classed as vulnerable if you’ve been through recent stressful or emotional circumstances. For example becoming unemployed, being a victim of crime, or having someone close to you die.

Tell the bailiffs if you’re a carer, relative or friend acting for someone vulnerable who has a debt. Explain the person’s vulnerability and the bailiffs should be willing to talk to you instead.

Mention if you have any legal right to act for the vulnerable person, such as powers of attorney.

Contact your nearest Citizens Advice if you need help dealing with bailiffs or your debt.

Telling bailiffs about your situation

Contact the bailiffs as soon as you can - or ask a carer, relative or friend to contact them for you.

If you’ve had a letter from bailiffs, look for a phone number. It’s best to call them, as this is the quickest way to get in touch. It’s important to contact them quickly so you can stop them visiting and adding fees.

If bailiffs visit your home, talk to them through a letterbox or an upstairs window - check how to stop a bailiff at your door.

When you talk to the bailiffs, you should:

  • say you’re vulnerable

  • explain why dealing with bailiffs is harder for you than someone in another situation

  • ask the bailiffs to cancel any future visits because of the extra distress it will cause you

  • make sure they know how a letter or visit could make your situation worse - for example if you have a heart condition or a mental health problem.

Keep a note of when you called and what you agreed, in case you need to complain later. Also ask for and write down the name of who you spoke to.

Write to the bailiffs if you can’t call them or if talking to them doesn’t help. Look for their postal address on any letters they’ve sent you, or look them up online.

Tell your creditor you’re vulnerable

As well as telling the bailiff you’re vulnerable, tell whoever you owe money to (your ‘creditor’). For example, if you owe council tax your creditor will be the council. Many councils and companies won’t use bailiffs if you explain that you’re vulnerable. 

When talking to your creditor, ask if you can pay off your debt in another way. For example, you could offer to pay it in instalments rather than all at once. Your creditor might decide they don’t need the bailiffs if you can pay them directly.

Make sure bailiffs treat you right

If you’re classed as vulnerable bailiffs should:

  • never come into your home if you’re the only person there

  • give you extra time to make a payment offer to stop them visiting - ask them to put your case on hold

  • never take or threaten to take anything that helps with your health 

  • make sure you can communicate with them - for example by sending letters in braille or bringing a translator when they visit

If bailiffs come into your home, they might make a list of anything they could take to sell and pay off your debt. This is called ‘taking control’ of your belongings. If a bailiff clamps your car this also means they’ve taken control of it.

You can stop bailiffs taking control of your belongings by paying off your debt in full - it’s best to do this if you can afford to.

If you can’t afford to pay in full, bailiffs can take control of your belongings. You can stop bailiffs removing your belongings by making a ‘controlled goods agreement’. Check how to make a controlled goods agreement.

Bailiffs shouldn’t take any of your belongings away when they first come into your home. They should give you extra time to get debt advice after they’ve taken control of your belongings. They should let you do this before they remove any of your belongings. If you need debt advice, you can talk to an adviser.

Bailiffs can sometimes charge fees for coming into your home - this is called 'enforcement'. Bailiffs can only charge enforcement fees if both the following apply:

  • they’ve taken your belongings into control

  • they’ve given you time to get debt advice after they take control of your belongings but before they remove them

Check what fees bailiffs are allowed to charge.

You can complain if bailiffs break these rules - this should make them treat you properly in the future. You might also be able to get their licence taken away. This will get rid of the bailiffs and their fees, though you’ll still have to deal with your debt.

If you have a child under 18

Bailiffs aren’t allowed to enter your home if they know no one over 16 is there.

They shouldn’t even ask questions from the door if the only people there are under 12. If they keep trying to talk to your children, you should complain about the bailiffs.

If bailiffs do enter your home, they shouldn’t take anything you need to care for children under 18. This includes children’s toys and games.

Proving you’re vulnerable if bailiffs don’t believe you

Bailiffs might ask for evidence that you’re vulnerable. If you can, it’s worth trying to prove your situation to them. Even if you’d rather not share these things, it can be worthwhile if it makes the bailiffs treat you better.

You could send them a copy of:

  • a doctor’s note explaining any illness or disability

  • a letter from the DWP or social services about any benefits you get

  • a council tax bill showing the adults who live in your home

Send copies rather than original documents. It’s a good idea to ask for 'proof of posting' at the post office when you send your documents. Proof of posting is free and will let you show the bailiffs when you sent your evidence to them. 

While you’re looking for and sending your documents, call the bailiffs and ask them to put your account on hold. This might stop them visiting you or calling you until they get your documents. The bailiffs should agree to this if you tell them you’re sending evidence to prove you’re vulnerable.

If bailiffs don’t believe your evidence

You can complain about the bailiffs if you’ve sent evidence but they still won’t treat you as vulnerable. Complaining can get them to leave you alone.

You can also contact your nearest Citizens Advice. Sometimes bailiffs are more likely to listen if they hear about your situation from one of our advisers.

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