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i The advice on this page applies to residents in England and Wales only.

Enforcement agents and bailiff advice

Bailiff rights and powers. What they can and can’t do

If you’re worried about bailiffs it’s good to know what rights you have and the powers they have, so you understand what a bailiff can and can’t do.

Bailiffs (also called enforcement agents) have to follow a set procedure and this helps determine when and where they can visit you.

Will I get any warning before bailiffs visit?

Bailiffs must send a letter before they visit.

This means as long as your creditor has your current address, you’ll get warning before the first visit from a bailiff.

There is a set process that bailiffs have to follow:

  1. Your creditor will send instructions to a bailiff. This is called a warrant of control

  2. The bailiff will send you a letter called a notice of enforcement (This PDF is not suitable for screenreaders. If you need any help with reading its contents please contact us). This gives you seven working days’ warning before they visit your home

  3. If you don’t pay the debt, a bailiff will visit you. They’ll usually try to come into your house and make a list of your goods

  4. It’s rare for them to take goods away on their first visit. Instead they’ll usually leave your goods with you, as long as you make payments towards the debt. This is called a ‘controlled goods agreement’ (This PDF is not suitable for screenreaders. If you need any help with reading its contents please contact us)

  5. If you ignore the bailiff, or if you don’t make the payments you’ve agreed, they’ll return and take away your goods to be sold

Can bailiffs force entry? Do I have to let them in?

In most cases a bailiff can only enter your house peacefully through a front or back door. This means they must:

  • Explain who they are
  • Say why they’re calling
  • Enter only with your permission
  • Enter without using force

They can’t:

  • Climb through a window
  • Break down doors or use a locksmith
  • Push past you or put their foot in the door to stop you closing it
  • Enter the property when there’s only a child under 16 at home
  • Lie about who they are or why they’re calling

There are some cases when a bailiff is allowed to use force to enter you house, for example:

  • To collect a criminal fine or taxes owed to HM Revenue & customs
  • To remove goods if you made a controlled goods agreement but you’ve not paid what you promised

Force is rarely used by bailiffs. They can’t break in without giving you a chance to let them in voluntarily.

In most cases they have to apply for a warrant from a judge before they’re allowed to use force.

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When can the bailiffs visit?

A bailiff can visit you between 6am and 9pm.

They can only visit outside these times if they get a warrant from a court allowing this, or if they’re visiting you at a business premises which is only open outside of these hours.

They can visit any day of the week, but they should avoid religious or cultural festivals unless it’s absolutely necessary.

Where can the bailiffs visit?

Bailiffs can visit any property in England or Wales where you live, or run a business. In practice, they’re most likely to visit you at home.

Bailiffs can visit someone else’s property if your goods are stored there, but they need a court warrant first.

If you’re self-employed they can visit your business address. But if you work for someone else they shouldn’t call at your workplace.

They can also take any goods you’ve left on a public road, including your car. Some bailiffs use automatic number plate recognition (ANPR) cameras so they can identify wanted cars as they drive round. They can get your car details from the DVLA to help identify your car.

We can help with bailiffs

A letter or visit from a bailiff is sign that you need free and impartial debt help. We can give expert budgeting advice to help deal with the bailiff debt and manage your situation.

To build a budget and get a personal action plan to deal with your debts now, use our free advice tool Debt Remedy. It’s confidential and only takes around 20 minutes to complete.

Or if you’d prefer to speak to us, call our Helpline (free from all landlines and mobiles). We’re open from Monday to Friday 8am to 8pm, and Saturday from 8am to 4pm.

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