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Know your rights: Bailiffs and my debts

Bailiffs appearing on your doorstep to recover a debt can be a scary and daunting experience. Knowing your rights will go a long way to help you deal with the situation. Remember, bailiffs have limited powers and MUST adhere to the laws that govern them.

This page will help you understand your rights when dealing with a bailiff and what they can and cannot do. We cover:

The page concentrates on what you should do if you are being pursued by a bailiff for a single debt. If you are being chased by bailiffs for multiple debts it could be a sign that you need to assess your financial situation and should take action to clear your debts.

At this stage, if you are worried about your debts or an impending visit from a bailiff, talk to one of our advisors on 0800 542 5685 or request a call back

What is a bailiff?

A bailiff is an individual who is legally authorised to recover an outstanding debt. Bailiffs will contact you directly to ask for payment of the debt.

They cannot legally enter your home unless you invite them in or they have a warrant to do so.

If they gain entry to your home they may seize your belongings to raise the money to pay the debt if you can't afford to pay it.

When do bailiffs visit your home?

You should not get an unexpected visit from the bailiffs.

Bailiffs need to provide you with at least 7 days' notice of their first visit. You should have also received a final demand, which will have warned you of court action or the use of bailiffs. These should both come in the post.

Bailiffs DO NOT collect debts, such as payday loans, credit cards or overdrafts unless the creditor has taken you to court and got a County Court Judgment (CCJ) and you have failed to pay it.

If bailiffs visit you and you haven't received any prior warning you should politely inform them of this fact and ask them to contact their advisors.

What debts do bailiffs collect

  • Council Tax Arrears
  • Parking Fine
  • Court Fine
  • County Court Judgement (CCJ) (can be suspended by court)
  • Family Court Judgement (FCJ)
  • High Court Judgement
  • Magistrates' Court Fine
  • Child Support
  • Maintenance
  • Compensation Order
  • Income Tax, National Insurance and VAT
  • Business Rent

What bailiffs can and cannot do

If your doors are locked, a bailiff cannot legally enter your home unless you invite them in. However, they can gain entry to your property if they find an unlocked back door, garage or shed, so keep them locked if you're expecting a call.

In extreme circumstances a bailiff may receive permission from the court to use reasonable force, although it is quite rare for this to happen. Reasonable force allows a bailiff to force a door or gate open, cut through a padlock and chain or break down a vehicle barrier.

Bailiffs CAN:

  • Stay in the house for as long as they require once they have gained entry.
  • Seize control of your belongings (they list them and you cannot then dispose of them yourself) and return at a later date to take them away (with a valid Notice of Intention to Re-enter). The notice of intention must give you at least two days clear notice and be signed by the bailiff.
  • Enter your house through a connecting door if they have acquired entry through an unlocked garage or building.
  • Force entry into your home if they have a warrant to do so.
  • Enter the main entrance to your block of flats by peaceful means (not forceful) if the door to your flat is locked they must then have your permission to enter (if they don't have a reasonable force warrant).
  • Enter your property if they've been invited by a house or flat mate over the age of 16.

Bailiffs CANNOT:

  • Enter your house between 9pm and 6am
  • Climb over any walls, fences or in through any windows
  • Enter premises where only a child (under 16) or a vulnerable person (this may include: single parent/elderly/disabled/seriously ill) is present
  • Force their way past you if you answer the door to them

What bailiffs can and cannot seize

Bailiffs CAN seize:

  • Luxury items such as TVs, cars, bikes and games consoles
  • Jointly owned items in the home or flat
  • Goods which were bought with personal loans
  • Any cash, cheques, bonds, stocks, shares, and pawn tickets that belong to you
  • Vehicle owned by you and kept at your home, business or public highway

Bailiffs CANNOT seize:

  • Someone else's belongings
  • Items you need for work or study such as tools, books or computer equipment up to the value of £1,350 (business rate debt is not covered by this clause)
  • Things you need for basic domestic needs (clothes/cooker/fridge/furniture/work tools, etc.)
  • Anything that belongs to a child
  • Goods currently being paid for on hire purchase
  • Goods which also act as your home such as a houseboat, static caravan, campervan or tent
  • A vehicle which is used for police, fire or ambulance work
  • A vehicle parked on private land that is not your home or business

What is a walking possession agreement?

Walking possession agreements are now called controlled goods agreements. Bailiffs can take goods immediately if you grant peaceful entry into your home, but usually they will not, as long as you make an agreement with the bailiff to repay the debt in instalments.

The controlled goods agreement allows a bailiff to take control of your goods by making a list of what can be taken. Provided your payments are paid as agreed and on time, the goods will be left in your possession whilst the debt is being repaid.

Be aware that any missed or late payment will break the agreement, so it is vital that you only agree to pay what you can afford and when you can afford it. Also be aware that any vehicle you own, if parked on your own drive or the public highway, may be seized without peaceful entry having been granted.

If you are dealing with bailiff action before 6 April 2014, different rules may apply. If you are unsure please call us on 0800 542 5685  or request a call back

What can bailiffs charge?

If you get letters informing you of a coming visit you should contact your creditor to try to organise payment of the debt to avoid further costs. If you allow bailiffs to be summoned to you, you must pay the following additional fees:

Fixed fees (if you owe less than £1,500): 

  • £75 when the case is sent to bailiffs
  • £235 if their letter is ignored and they have to visit you
  • £110 if they have to take your goods and sell them at an auction
  • Additional action fees (storing goods/using locksmith)

If you owe more than £1,500 you have to pay a percentage of your debt each time the bailiffs visit your home.

How to deal with a bailiff visit

If you are aware of an impending visit you may wish to make sure you let everyone in the house know to avoid any confusion. You may also find it comforting to have a member of your family or a friend with you when the bailiffs come.

If you cannot afford to pay your debt you do not legally have to co-operate with bailiffs but this may cause problems, such as court action further down the line, so it is well worth co-operating.

If you don't let them in they may try to seize your belongings from outside of your house, such as your car or motorbike. They may also return for a second time to try again.

If the bailiff cannot get payment, get into your house or seize any goods from outside your house they may refer your debt back to your creditor. Your creditor may then take court action, make you bankrupt, or in extreme cases, file for imprisonment.

Complaining about bailiffs

You can complain about a bailiff if they:

  • Threaten or harass you
  • Gained entry forcefully or illegally
  • Failed to show the correct documents
  • Try to charge you incorrect fees
  • Seized the wrong goods 

You may be able to get a refund of fees or your goods returned if a bailiff has broken the rules, so make sure you keep a detailed record of the times and dates of any incidents that occur.

In most cases the bailiff who will visit you will be employed by a private firm, even if the debt you have is a government or council debt. If you wish to complain you must go to the company the bailiff works for or the people you owe money to.

If you are dealing with bailiff action that began before 6 April 2014, different rules may apply than those explained above. If you are unsure please call us on 0800 542 5685.

Bailiffs and your debts

Having knowledge about what bailiffs can and cannot do can make all the difference when dealing with them. It can change a stressful situation into a straightforward and clear resolution. However, it is important to seek advice.

Finding out as much information as possible will help, but seeking advice for your own individual circumstances could be the turning point to a debt free future.

If you want to discuss your situation, unsure about how to deal with bailiffs or want to talk about your debts, please call us on 0800 542 5685 or start a   live chat