Negotiating your debt with bailiffs

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

You can stop bailiffs (also called 'enforcement agents') coming to your home to collect a debt you owe by paying the debt in full.

If you can't pay your debt in full there are other options you can take - these will depend on your budget and circumstances.

You can ask the bailiffs if you can:

  • pay most of your debt off in one go if you can afford most of it

  • set up a payment arrangement if you can afford small regular payments

Even if your offer is refused you should still try to pay. This can help make it easier to negotiate with the bailiffs because they can see that you want to pay.  

Even if the bailiffs are already in your home it's not too late to pay them. This will stop them taking your belongings and you'II be able to avoid paying extra fees.

If the bailiffs come into your home and you can't afford to pay your debt you'll normally have to make a 'controlled goods agreement'. This means you'll agree to a repayment plan and pay some bailiffs fees. Read more about making a controlled goods agreement.

If you’re having problems with your debts contact your nearest Citizens Advice to find out how else you might be able to deal with the debt. Find out more about getting help with your debt.

Bailiffs have to give you extra time and support to deal with your debt if you’re vulnerable. Check the extra rules the bailiffs should follow if you:

  • are disabled or seriously ill

  • have mental health problems

  • have children or are pregnant

  • are under 18 or over 65

  • don't speak or read English well

  • are in a stressful situation like recent bereavement or unemployment

Paying most of the debt off

If you can’t pay your whole debt but can pay most of what you owe in one payment, call the bailiffs to ask them if they’II accept a reduced payment.

They might accept your offer because it gets the debt paid quicker, even if they don’t get all the money.

You can find the bailiff’s contact details in any letters they’ve sent you about the debt. Calling them is the quickest way to get in touch.

It’s best to pay by bank card or by cheque so you have a record. Also ask the bailiffs to send you a receipt when you pay - it’s important to get this in case you later need to prove you’ve paid.

Making a payment arrangement

You can offer to pay your debt off in regular weekly or monthly amounts instead of having to pay it all off at once.

You'II have a better chance of getting the bailiffs to accept your offer if it's realistic and affordable.

If you need help setting up a payment arrangement

Call the bailiffs to ask them to put your case on hold while you get advice from your nearest Citizens Advice. If they agree to put your case on hold - this will give you time to work out what you can pay.

They don’t have to agree to put your case on hold unless you’re vulnerable. Check how to prove you’re vulnerable.

Work out what you can afford to pay

Before making your offer work out what you can afford and create a budget sheet to show the money you have coming in and going out. For example, you might be able to pay £10 a month after paying your other essential costs such as food, rent, mortgage and energy bills.

Don’t offer to pay more than you can afford. You could make your situation worse if you can’t keep up with your payments. For example you might have to pay extra charges.

Also check if you can increase your income - this could help you clear your debt quicker. For example you might be able to increase your hours at work. You should also check if you’re getting all the benefits you’re entitled to.

Sending your information

Send the bailiffs your budget sheet with a short letter explaining why you can’t pay the debt in full. Ask to pay in weekly or monthly installments, depending on how you manage your money.

It’s also worth sending your information to the creditor - this is the person or organisation you owe the money to. Doing this can help get your offer accepted sooner because they’ve asked the bailiffs to collect the debt.

The bailiffs should have told you who your creditor is on a letter called a 'notice of enforcement'. Use the details to search online for their address. If your creditor is a company search on the Companies House website on GOV.UK.

Send your information by recorded delivery if you can or ask for a free proof of postage receipt. Keep a copy of your letter and any reply you get in case you need it later.

If you prefer you could send your information by email.

If the bailiffs agree to your payment offer ask them to send you a written agreement. Make sure both you and the bailiffs sign the agreement - this makes it clear what you’ve both agreed.

If you have to pay the debt in a set time

You might be asked to pay your debt back within 6 months or a year - for example, if you have a council tax debt.

Bailiffs can’t ask you to pay within a set time if you’re in a situation that makes it hard for you to deal with them. For example if you’re disabled or you have children.  Check how to prove it’s difficult for you to deal with bailiffs.

Contact your nearest Citizens Advice for help if you’re asked to pay your debt within a set time and you can’t.

If you can't keep to your payment arrangement

Call the bailiffs if you think you might have to miss a payment - explain why you're having difficulties paying. For example, tell them if you've lost your job.

They should ask you what you can afford based on your new situation or tell you to get debt advice to work this out.

If you miss payments and don't contact the bailiffs to discuss your situation they can cancel your payment arrangement. This will usually mean you'II have to pay extra charges.

If the bailiffs cancel your payment arrangement

Call the bailiffs straight away and ask them why they’ve cancelled your arrangement. If it’s because you missed a payment, explain why you missed it. If you’re now able to pay ask them to restart your agreement.

If you still can’t pay ask them to put your case on hold while you look at your budget and work out what you can pay.

Contact your nearest Citizens Advice if the bailiffs try to charge you interest and fees while your case is on hold - in most cases they shouldn’t charge you.

If your payment has been cancelled for another reason or you’re worried about speaking to the bailiffs you should also get help from your nearest Citizens Advice.

If the bailiffs refuse your payment offer

There are things you can still do to try to get your offer accepted.

Talk to your creditor

Call the creditor - the person or organisation you owe the debt to. Ask them to accept your offer instead. They might agree to do this to get the debt cleared quickly.

You can find your creditor's name on the 'notice of enforcement' letter the bailiffs should have sent you. Use the details to search online for their telephone number. It's best to call them as this is the quickest way of getting in touch.

Your creditor might ask you to send them your budget sheet to prove what you can afford.

Contact your nearest Citizens Advice if you're worried about speaking to your creditor.

Keep paying anyway

If your creditor also refuses to accept your offer you should still try to pay your debt. It’s worth doing this because if they take further action against you, for example by going to court, you’II be able to prove you tried to pay.

You can get your creditor’s payment details from previous letters they’ve sent you.

If you haven’t got your creditor’s payment details you can write to them to try to get your offer accepted. Use their name to search for their address on the Companies House website on GOV.UK.

If your creditor returns your payments, save the money so you have it ready in case they later decide to accept your offer.  

Apply to court if you have a county court or high court debt

If you have a county court or high court debt you have an extra option if your creditor refuses your payment offer. You can apply to court to ask them to decide what you should pay.

The letter that the bailiffs should have sent you about your debt will tell you if you have a county court or high court debt. You'II have a county court or high court debt if you had been taken to court by your creditor to try to get the debt paid.

When you apply to court your situation and budget will be looked at to decide what you can afford. As long as you pay the amount the court sets you won't have to deal with bailiffs any more.

You'II need to apply to court by filling in form N245 on GOV.UK for a county court debt and form N244 for a high court debt.

Explain in the form why you want your creditor to accept your offer and give details of your financial situation.

You'II usually have to pay a fee to apply to court. You might be able to get help with court fees if you're on a low income or claiming certain benefits.

If you need help with filling in your court form contact your nearest Citizens Advice.

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