Money Wellness

Help with bailiffs: what enforcement agents can and can't do

These days, bailiffs are officially referred to as enforcement agents. But they’re still commonly known as bailiffs. Their job is to remove and sell your goods to pay off a debt.

They do this on behalf of lenders in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. Scotland has sheriff officers instead. They work a little differently.

If you have bailiffs at your door, it helps to know your rights and understand what a bailiff can and can’t do.

Man at desk with coffee

What is a bailiff?

Bailiffs have legal powers to collect debts. They can usually only be sent to your property following court action.

This court action could have been taken by:

  1. a lender trying to recover debts/fines or repossess goods if you’re behind with your payments
  2. a landlord trying to evict you

Are there different types of bailiffs?

There are four kinds of bailiff or enforcement officer:

  • Private enforcement officers often collect for the local authority (the council) and HMRC. They usually deal with council tax arrears, parking fines and other tax debts. But it's possible for any lender to use a private enforcement officer.
  • County court enforcement officers are the ones most commonly referred to as bailiffs. They are used when a lender has a county court judgment (CCJ) against you.
  • High court enforcement officers are used if a lender has transferred a CCJ to the high court. They can do this if the CCJ is for more than £600 (including court costs). But they can’t do this for debts that fall under the Consumer Credit Act, such as credit cards, store cards and personal loans. These are always dealt with by the county court.
  • Magistrates’ county court or magistrates’ court enforcement officers mostly deal with fines for criminal offences.
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Can bailiffs enter your home?

Most bailiffs are only allowed to enter your home:

  • through a door
  • without aggression
  • with your permission

For most kinds of debt, bailiffs aren’t allowed to enter your home if:

  • no-one is in; or
  • the only people there are under 16 or vulnerable e.g. due to a disability

Bailiffs aren’t allowed to visit you between 9pm and 6am. They can’t break in or push past you.

If an enforcement officer threatens you physically, call 999.

house door

Can a bailiff force entry?

If they’re collecting tax debts or criminal fines, a bailiff can try to enter your home with the help of a locksmith. They need court permission to do this, and it doesn’t happen very often.

They’re never allowed to break down a door.

Bailiffs can also use reasonable force to enter your home if you’ve let them in before.

woman on phone

Can bailiffs refuse a payment plan?

If you suggest a payment plan to a bailiff, you’ll need to include a budget. That will show if the amount you’re offering to pay each month is reasonable. The bailiff should pass on any reasonable offer of payment to the lender.

If they don’t think your offer is reasonable because you could afford to pay more, they may refuse to pass it on.

In this situation, you should:

  • make the payments anyway
  • get in touch with the lender directly to see if they’ll accept your offer
man on phone checking online banking

Will the bailiff eventually give up?

You may stop a bailiff temporarily if you refuse to let them into your home and don’t engage with them. But this is only a short-term solution.

As long as the lender wants them to collect the money you owe, they will keep coming back.

The only way that guarantees getting rid of bailiffs long term is to agree a payment plan or enter a debt solution.

If you need help coming up with a payment offer or want to find out more about debt solutions, get debt advice.

woman thinking

What if bailiffs are at my home for someone else?

A bailiff might turn up at your door looking for:

  • someone for whom they have the wrong address
  • a friend or family member who lives with you

If they have the wrong address

Don’t let them in. Ask to speak to them at a safe distance from your door. You can prove your identity by showing them something like an energy or council tax bill. This will usually make them leave.

You can also phone the company or court that sent them to tell them a mistake has been made.

If they’re looking for someone you live with

You’re not responsible for the debt of someone you live with. If a bailiff turns up when that person is out, tell the bailiff they’re not there.

If this is the first time the bailiff has visited your address, they can’t come into your home without your permission.

If they’ve visited before, they may have a warrant to enter. This means they can enter to list or take goods. But they’re not allowed to take goods that don’t belong to the person who owes the debt.

You may have to prove you own something to stop the bailiff taking it. Do this by showing them an order form, bill or receipt.

Let the person who owes the money know about the visit as soon as possible. Suggest they get debt advice or call the company that sent the bailiff to arrange a payment plan.

graphic of house with calculator and coins

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