A guide to bailiff rights

 

What is a bailiff?

A bailiff, also known as an enforcement agent, is someone who has legal authority to collect a debt. They can be employed by private companies, the local council, or they may be self-employed.

Debts a bailiff can collect include:

  • Child maintenance arrears
  • County Court Judgements (CCJs)
  • Council tax arrears
  • Criminal fines
  • Income tax
  • National Insurance
  • Parking fines
  • Tax credit overpayments
  • VAT

Bailiffs are legally allowed to visit your home, remove your goods, and sell them to pay off a debt. They must send you a notice of enforcement to let you know they’re coming, which you should get seven working days before the planned visit. You can use this time to pay the debt, or reach an agreement to pay the debt in instalments – if this happens the bailiffs will no longer visit.

They must let you know who they are and why they are there before you decide whether to let them in your home. They must also show you proof of the debt you owe and a warrant from the court, also known as a writ. All documents must be signed, in date, and display the correct name and address for you.

If you can’t pay the whole debt, you can ask them if you can pay most of it in one go, if you’re able to. If not, you can set up small, regular payments. Bailiffs can refuse a payment offer or payment plan, or say they only want full payment, but it helps to try to pay anyway. They will see you want to pay and it will be easier to negotiate. Paying can also stop them taking control of your goods.

Types of bailiffs

There are four different types of bailiffs:

  1. Certificated enforcement agents. ‘Enforcement agent’ is a synonym for bailiff. Enforcement agents are certified by the County Court and have their certification renewed independently every two years.
  2. High court enforcement officers, who are officers of the High Court of England and Wales. They take control of goods or repossess property in order to enforce High Court judgments.
  3. County court and family court bailiffs. County court and family court bailiffs are employed by HM Courts & Tribunals Service. They take control of goods and sell them in order to recover County Court Judgment debts, repossess property, and execute arrest warrants for contempt of court.
  4. Civilian enforcement officers, also known as Approved Enforcement Agents, who enforce magistrates’ court fines and warrants for arrests.

When can a bailiff collect a debt?

Sending a bailiff to your home is often a last resort. A court will try to contact you to find a resolution first, such as setting up a debt payment plan that all parties agree to. In the majority of cases, a bailiff can only be sent to your home after court action has been taken. The only time bailiffs can come to your home without a court order is if they are sent by HM Revenue & Customs.

There isn’t a limit on how many times a bailiff can visit your home. If they visit multiple times and are unable to enter, they will normally return the warrant to the court or your local authority.

They must visit from 6am to 9pm between Monday and Saturday, excluding bank holidays (unless they have permission otherwise). If they haven’t visited your home before, they cannot come in unless you or another adult gives them permission. However, they can enter through an unlocked door or window without your permission and it will be considered a peaceful entry.

Bailiffs were not allowed to visit during the first COVID-19 lockdown in 2020. However, they are now allowed to work and take control of goods in order to pay debts.

What can a bailiff take?

A bailiff is allowed to make an inventory of goods they could use to pay off the debt, once they’ve been sold off at auction. They don’t normally take these goods straight away, giving you the chance to make payments towards your debt. If you don’t do this, the bailiff can come back to remove the listed goods, and use force to enter your property.

Goods a bailiff will look for include:

  • Cars and other vehicles
  • Electrical goods
  • Furniture
  • Jewellery

They will also list anything else that can be sold for a good price at auction.

Any goods which are added to the inventory are legally taken into the control of the bailiff, even if they are left in your property for the bailiff to collect later. Once this happens, it becomes a criminal offence for you to sell, hide or damage these goods.

A bailiff may do the following once your goods have been added to the inventory:

  1. Remove them immediately to be sold. 
  2. Leave them with you. You can keep using them if you make payments towards the debt and have signed a controlled goods agreement. This agreement means the bailiff can return and take your goods if you don’t make payments towards the debt.
  3. Leave them with you, but lock them up. This is more likely to happen if the bailiff is collecting a business debt.

Hiding goods from bailiffs

Whether or not you can hide your goods depends on which stage of the enforcement process you’re at.

Before getting your first notice of enforcement letter After the bailiff has visited your property and made an inventory of goods
After getting the notice of enforcement letter, but before the bailiff has visited your property

 

Can bailiffs take my car?

In some scenarios. Bailiffs can add a vehicle to the inventory of goods if they have confirmed you own it. They will often look for cars and other vehicles first, because of their high value compared to other items most people own.

 

Bailiffs cannot take:

  • A vehicle used by a disabled person.
  • A vehicle which is a) necessary for your job and b) worth less than £1,350.
  • A vehicle which is the subject of a logbook loan (where the vehicle is owned by the loan company until the loan has been repaid), where the final payment hasn’t been made.
  • A vehicle which is also someone’s main home, such as a camper van or houseboat.

 

The rules around hire purchase vehicles and vehicles paid for using a finance agreement are less clear-cut. Some argue that these vehicles belong to a third party until they are paid off, and so a bailiff has no right to take them. Others disagree. The regulations are complex and allow both of these interpretations.

If a bailiff does say they will take or clamp your hire purchase vehicle, you can search for it on the HPI Check site, which will show that you are still paying for it. You can make a complaint to the bailiff company and the creditor in writing, keeping a copy of the letter for yourself. You can also send the letter of complaint to the regulator or ombudsman the creditor is overseen by, if they have one.

Can bailiffs clamp my car?

They can only do this if the vehicle is parked on your property or a public road. If it is parked on someone else’s property, they must have a court warrant before they can clamp it. They will often look for your vehicle if they know you own one, but it isn’t parked on your property.

Is there anything a bailiff can’t take?

Bailiffs cannot take:

  • Basic household items, including:
    • Beds and bedding for everyone who lives in the property
    • A dining table, plus chairs for everyone who lives in the property
    • Heat and light sources
    • Kitchen appliances like an oven, microwave, fridge and washing machine
    • Medical equipment
    • A phone (landline or mobile)
    • A sofa, unless you have more than is required for the number of people living in the property
  • Clothes
  • Equipment essential for your job or study (up to a value of £1,350)
  • Fitted storage like kitchen units or built-in wardrobes
  • Goods bought on hire purchase agreement, if the final payment hasn’t been made
  • Goods owned by someone else, like a partner or child. Bailiffs can only take goods belonging to the person named on the enforcement notice (including goods jointly owned with someone else).
  • Goods currently being used
  • Pets (including assistance dogs)
  • A vehicle displaying a valid Blue Badge, or a Motability vehicle

 

You can stop a bailiff from taking goods by proving they shouldn’t. Citizens Advice recommends the following:

  1. If the goods belong to someone else, the person who owns them can provide a bill, credit card receipt, or order form with their name on it. If the item is a vehicle, you can contact the DVLA to get proof the other person is the registered owner.
  2. If it’s something you need for work or study, you can show invoices, order forms or receipts to prove it’s worth less than £1,350 and explain why you need the item. You can also show proof of employment or enrolment documents.
  3. If it’s something you’re paying for on finance, the item will not belong to you until you’ve made the final payment. If bailiffs say they might take it, you can search for it on the HPI Check site, which will show that you are still paying for it.
  4. If it’s a Motability vehicle, show the bailiff your approved application documents. Motability vehicles are owned by the Motability Scheme and are therefore considered third-party goods.
  5. If it’s a vehicle with a valid Blue Badge, show the bailiff dated documents to prove you have the Blue Badge. 

If a bailiff breaks the rules, you can make a complaint and get the belongings in question returned to you.

Evictions

Bailiffs can come to evict you if the landlord has applied for a warrant for possession. The landlord must have gone through every other step of the eviction process first.

You must receive notice of an eviction date two weeks beforehand. If you are still at the property on this date, the bailiffs will ask you to leave. You can ask the bailiffs to provide identification when they arrive. 

It’s best to pack and remove your belongings before the eviction date, so you are ready to give them the keys and leave, as bailiffs are not required to give you time to do this. If you do have belongings in the property, bailiffs are not allowed to damage them. They are not allowed to sell your belongings to pay for court costs or rent arrears, unless the court issues an order giving them permission to do so.

What bailiffs can’t do

A bailiff cannot enter your home through any entrance except a door, and they must have your permission. They mustn’t come in if:

  • The only person at home is a child under 16 years of age
  • The only person at home is a vulnerable person (i.e. someone who is unable to look after themselves or their finances)
  • It’s between 9pm and 6am

They can enter your home if you are not there, if someone lets them in or they have received permission from you to enter.

You can lock your doors and talk to a bailiff through an upstairs window or your letterbox if you prefer. Bailiffs are allowed to enter through unlocked doors and windows.

Can bailiffs force entry?

In the UK, bailiffs cannot enter a home by using force – for example, by pushing past you into the property, or by breaking down doors – except in specific circumstances:

  • A bailiff can force entry if they are collecting a criminal fine. Occurrences of this are rare.
  • Bailiffs from HM Revenue & Customs can force entry when collecting some tax debts. They must have permission from the court before they can attempt this.
  • Bailiffs can force entry if they are collecting unpaid criminal fines, Income Tax, or Stamp Duty, but this must be a last resort.
  • High court bailiffs can force entry if it’s not their first visit and you haven’t paid them what you agreed to.

Bailiffs may be able to force entry by asking a locksmith to let them in, depending on the type of debt you owe, but you should be given the opportunity to pay without the bailiffs entering your home.

FAQs

What is the difference between a bailiff and a debt collector?

A bailiff has legal powers to collect a debt and take items from your property. A debt collector does not – the most they can do is ask you to make arrangements to pay a debt.

How much can bailiffs charge?

How much a bailiff can charge depends on the type of bailiff they are. The fees are fixed for each stage, and if you arrange to pay your debt at one stage, then you shouldn’t have to move on to (and be charged for) the next stage. For example, if you set up a payment plan with your creditor at the compliance stage, bailiffs won’t visit your home and you won’t be charged for enforcement.

You shouldn’t have another charge added to your debt if:

  • You pay the debt in full
  • You make a controlled goods agreement after the bailiff visits for the first time
  • You haven’t refused to make a controlled goods agreement
  • The bailiffs aren’t going to take control of your belongings 

High Court bailiff fees

Type of fees Fixed fee Percentage extra you’ll pay for debts over £1,500
Compliance: writing to you about your debt £75 None
Enforcement 1: visiting your home £190 7.5%
Enforcement 2: if you didn’t make or keep a payment agreement £495 None
Sale: taking and selling your belongings £525 7.5%

(source: Citizens Advice)

Other bailiff fees

Type of fees Fixed fee Percentage extra you’ll pay for debts over £1,000
Compliance: writing to you about your debt £75 None
Enforcement: visiting your home £235 7.5%
Sale: taking and selling your belongings £110 7.5%

(source: Citizens Advice)

Can I pay the council instead of the bailiffs?

No. Once your debt has been passed to an enforcement agency, the amount you must pay includes the bailiff fees. The council will recommend that the enforcement agency takes care of the payment.

Can a debt relief order stop bailiffs?

During the period of a debt relief order, you must still pay any debts which are subject to a controlled goods agreement.

Can bailiffs enter my house for someone else’s debt?

No, unless the person who owes the debt also lives there and the bailiff is given permission to enter the property. If bailiffs are at your door for someone else and they have come to the wrong address, you need to provide proof that the person who owes the debt does not live there and doesn’t have any belongings there. Write to the enforcement agency to let them know this is the case.

A bailiff is not allowed to take your belongings to pay for someone else’s debt, unless they are items the pair of you own jointly.

How can I complain about a bailiff?

Write to the enforcement agency the bailiff works for and the creditor they are collecting the debt for. Save copies of the letters for yourself.

If your complaint is not resolved satisfactorily, you can contact the relevant governing body or ombudsman. Your complaint can also be escalated to the police and civil courts. We recommend seeking legal advice before getting the court involved.

Seeking legal advice

No matter how careful you are with money, circumstances can change and paying back debt is no longer as straightforward as it seemed at the time of the agreement. At Manak Solicitors, we want to help you mediate any disputes as quickly and easily as possible.

Do you need advice on bailiff rights? Contact Manak Solicitors today.

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