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Belongings owned by other people - bailiffs
When a bailiff gets into your home they will try to take control of some of your belongings.
This page tells you whether bailiffs can take things that belong to someone other than the person who owes the debt.
If you’re dealing with bailiff action that began before 6 April 2014, different rules may apply. You should get advice from your local Citizens Advice Bureau.
Proving who owns the items
If some of the items in your home or on your driveway are jointly owned or don't belong to you, you'll need to prove it to the bailiff.
Can bailiffs take goods belonging to other people?
Bailiffs are only allowed to take control of goods which belong to the person named on the notice of enforcement. This will be the person who owes the debt.
So, things belonging to your husband or wife, partner, children or lodgers can't be taken. The only exception is if the items are jointly owned by you and another person, in which case the bailiff can take them.
Hire purchase or conditional sale items
Bailiffs shouldn't take control of items on hire, hire purchase or conditional sale agreements as they don't belong to you until you've made the final payment on the agreement.
Goods bought on credit, such as a personal loan or credit card, or a 'buy now pay later' credit agreement, can be taken control of because they do belong to you.
If you are bankrupt, your belongings are under the control of the Official Receiver. You should tell the bailiffs to contact the Official Receiver before continuing with the levy process. If the bailiffs levy goods after you are made bankrupt, the Official Receiver can take legal action against the bailiff.
Goods already seized by another bailiff
Bailiffs are not allowed to take control of goods which have already been seized by enforcement officers or another bailiff. If a second bailiff tries to levy on goods already levied, the second bailiff should contact the first bailiff to discuss who has priority.
Goods belonging to someone else are taken
A bailiff shouldn't take goods if they can't be sure that those goods don't belong to someone else. However, it the bailiff does take goods belonging to someone else, known as a third party, you or that person can complain to the bailiff's firm and ask for the goods to be returned. When you complain, the following process must be followed:
- you or the third party write to the bailiff within seven days of the goods being taken to claim the goods back
- the bailiff must contact your creditor to get their opinion within three days of receiving your letter
- the creditor then has seven days to decide whether your goods were correctly taken
- if the creditor agrees the goods were taken wrongfully, they will instruct the bailiff to give them back
- if the creditor says the goods were correctly taken, they will reject the claim.
If the complaint is unsuccessful, the owner can apply to the court for an order to get their belongings back. The owner should seek legal advice before starting court action. They have to pay a fee, as well as a deposit covering the value of the goods and the costs of keeping them in control.
When a third party applies to the court claiming ownership of the items, the bailiff will be notified of the application. Once the bailiff has received this notification, they can't sell or dispose of the goods until the court tells them they can. For example, the court may give the bailiff permission to continue with the sale of the goods if the third party fails to pay the deposit required.
There will be a hearing, after which the court may order the bailiff to give the belongings back to the rightful owner and may also award damages if the owner experienced an actual financial loss as a result of their goods being taken.
Goods belonging to someone else are sold
If goods belongings to someone else are sold while they are taking court action to get them back, the bailiff must hand over the proceeds of the sale to the court.
If a bailiff sells goods belonging to someone else, they can only be held liable for this mistake if either of the following apply:
- at the time the goods were sold, the bailiff knew they belonged to someone else
- the bailiff had been notified that a third party had applied to court to get the items back before the goods were sold.
Belongings given away
If you give something away to another person, either before the date on the notice of enforcement, or the date the warrant or writ for high court or county court judgments or magistrate court fines was issued, the bailiffs can't take it.
Once the bailiffs are involved you won't be able to give away your belongings. If you do, the item will be treated as if it still belonged to you and the bailiff can take it. However, in practice the bailiffs are unlikely to know before they visit whether you have given away your belongings or who you have given them to.
If you give away any of your belongings, it must be an unconditional gift. If you make a gift on condition that the person returns the item when the bailiffs have gone away, you could be held to be in contempt of court if you gave the item away to evade the court.