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Worried about bailiffs?

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

Bailiff and enforcement agents advice

Bailiff rights and powers. What they can and cannot do

Bailiffs have rules they have to follow. You do not always have to let them into your home and there are some goods they cannot take from you. You can complain if they break the rules.


  • What rights you have
  • The powers they have
  • What a bailiff can and cannot do

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

Will I get any warning before a bailiff visit?

Bailiffs must send a letter before they visit you. You should get a warning before they come.

The process is as follows:

  • The people you owe ask a bailiff to act for them using a ‘warrant of control’
  • This means they can visit you to take away goods and sell them at auction
  • The bailiff sends you a letter called a notice of enforcement (PDF)
  • This explains why they are visiting you
  • Pay off the debt or agree repayment terms within seven working days of receiving the letter
  • The bailiff will visit your home if you do not
  • They will try to come inside and make a list of things to sell at auction
  • It is rare for them to take goods away on their first visit
  • They may make a ‘controlled goods agreement’ (PDF)
  • This means they leave your goods with you but
  • You must make payments towards the debt

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Make a complaint if a bailiff does not follow the right process. Find out more about making bailiff complaints.

When can bailiffs visit?

A bailiff can visit between 6am and 9pm.

They can only visit outside these times if:

  • They get a warrant from a court allowing this
  • They are coming to a business which is only open outside these hours

They can visit any day of the week. But they should avoid religious or cultural festivals unless it is absolutely necessary.

Where can the bailiffs visit?

Bailiffs can visit:

  • Any property in England or Wales
  • Anywhere you live or run a business

In practice, they are most likely to visit you at home.

Bailiffs can visit someone else’s property if:

  • You store goods there
  • They have a court warrant

Bailiffs can visit your business address if you are self-employed. They should not visit your workplace if you work for someone else.

They can take any goods you have left on a highway, including your car.

  • Some bailiffs use automatic number plate recognition (ANPR) cameras to find cars on the road
  • They can use details from the DVLA to help find your car

Bailiffs may not always need to come into the home to take control of goods.

They may offer a Virtual controlled goods appointment if:

  • You are vulnerable and
  • Cannot have visitors

This is rare though.

What should I do about a bailiff visit?

If you are expecting a bailiff visit do not let them into your property.

Now that the rules have changed, you need to know that:

  • A bailiff does not need to enter the property to take control of goods
  • They could list goods they can see through a window
  • You may want to close any curtains and blinds before they visit
  • You could move any high-value goods to a place where they cannot be seen
  • If a bailiff lists goods they can see through your window, it is your choice whether to sign the controlled goods agreement
  • If you do not sign:
  • They cannot force entry to your home
  • They cannot take control of the goods unless they are let into your home

signpost iconYou can make a complaint if a bailiff tries to take control of goods without entering your home.

Can a bailiff force entry if they have taken control of goods through a window?

No. They must make a peaceful entry to the home.

This means that if the bailiff makes a controlled goods agreement without entering the property, they cannot force entry to remove the goods later.

What if I do not sign the controlled goods agreement?

The goods will not be taken into control unless you sign the agreement.

This applies only when the bailiff lists:

  • Virtually, or
  • Through the window

They could try to take goods inside the property another way. Like, removing them immediately to safe storage.

They cannot do this without entry. So you can refuse to sign.

Can a controlled goods agreement be made without me?

No. A controlled goods agreement must be signed by you and the enforcement agent.

A bailiff cannot:

  • Make a list of goods they see through the window
  • Post it through the letterbox

You, or someone acting for you, must be there when the agreement is made.

What happens if I do not let bailiffs in?

They may return and try again.

Bailiffs may apply for a warrant to force entry if you keep refusing them. This is rare, and usually only applies to Magistrate court and HMRC debts.

Bailiffs can apply for a warrant to force entry for CCJs, but only if:

  • The judgment is related to a business address, or
  • You moved controlled goods to another place to avoid them being taken

The people you owe may cancel the warrant if they do not think the bailiffs can get any money. This means they will not return to your home.

Can bailiffs force entry?

In most cases a bailiff can only:

  • Enter your house peaceably
  • Through a front or back door

This means they must:

  • Explain who they are
  • Say why they are calling
  • Enter without using force, unless they have a warrant allowing them to do so (which is rare)

Find out more about dealing with bailiffs.

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Can bailiffs force entry with a locksmith?

Unless they have a specific warrant, they are not allowed to:

  • Break down doors
  • Use a locksmith

They also cannot:

  • Climb through a window
  • Push past you or put their foot in the door to stop you closing it
  • Enter the property when there is only a child aged under 16 at home
  • Lie about who they are or why they are calling

Can a bailiff force entry for council tax?

A bailiff can only force entry:

  • To collect a criminal fine or taxes owed to HM Revenue & Customs
  • To take goods if there was a controlled goods agreement in place, but you did not pay what you had agreed to pay

A bailiff cannot force entry to your home for a council tax debt unless they already have a controlled goods agreement in place.

Force is rarely used by bailiffs.

We can help with bailiffs

A letter or visit from a bailiff is a sign that you need free and impartial debt help.

We can:

  • Give expert budgeting advice to help deal with the bailiff debt
  • Manage your situation

Take two minutes to answer a few simple questions or call our helpline to speak to an exert advisor.