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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 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.

alert iconBailiffs and enforcement agents do not need to enter your home to take control of goods. The High Court has recently made this new ruling.
At present, home visits from sheriff officers in Scotland are on hold until further notice.

What should I do about a bailiff visit?

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

Now that the rules have changed, it’s important to understand 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 a bailiff visit
  • You could move any high-value goods to a place where they can’t 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, and they cannot take control of the goods unless they are let into your home

If a bailiff tries to take control of goods without entering your home, you could make a complaint.

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

No. A peaceable entry must be made to the property first before a forced entry can be made.

This means that if the bailiff has made a controlled goods agreement without entering the property, they wouldn’t be able to force entry to remove the goods later.

What if I don’t sign the controlled goods agreement?

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

If they are inside the property, they could try taking control of the goods another way (such as by removing them immediately to safe storage).

However, if they haven’t gained entry, they can’t do this, 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 can’t make a list of goods they’ve seen through the window and post it through the letterbox. You, or someone acting on your behalf, must be present at the time the controlled goods agreement is made.

Will I get any warning before bailiffs visit?

Bailiffs must always send a letter before they visit you. If your creditors have your current address, you’ll always get a warning before your first visit from a bailiff.

The process is as follows:

  1. Your creditor will instruct a bailiff to act for them using a ‘warrant of control’. This means they’re able to visit you to take away goods which can then be sold at auction.
  2. The bailiff will send you a letter called a notice of enforcement (PDF) which explains why they’ll be visiting you.
  3. You should pay off the debt, or agree repayment terms, within seven working days of receiving the letter. If you don’t, the bailiff will visit your home.
  4. They’ll usually try to come inside and make a list of your goods to be sold to pay what you owe, but it’s rare for them to take goods away on their first visit. They may make a ‘controlled goods agreement’ (PDF), which means that they’ll leave your goods with you on the understanding that you’ll make payments towards the debt.

signpost iconIf a bailiff doesn’t follow the right process, you can make a complaint about them. Find out more about making bailiff complaints.

What happens if I don’t let bailiffs in?

They may return and attempt to gain entry again.

In rare cases, relating to certain types of debt and in specific circumstances, if you keep refusing to let them in, bailiffs may apply to a judge for a warrant to force entry. This 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,
  • goods which had already been taken into control were purposefully moved to another premises to avoid being them being taken

Alternatively, the creditor may withdraw the warrant if they think there’s no realistic chance that the bailiffs will be able to recover the money. This means they won’t return to your home.

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

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’re 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.

Can bailiffs force entry with a locksmith?

They’re not allowed to break down doors or use a locksmith unless they have a warrant that specifically allows them to do this. They also can’t:

  • Climb through a window
  • Push past you or put their foot in the door to stop you closing it
  • Enter the property when there’s only a child aged under 16 at home
  • Lie about who they are or why they’re 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 remove goods if there was a controlled goods agreement in place, but you didn’t pay what you’d 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.

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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 highway, 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 a 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 find out if debt advice is right for you, take two minutes to answer a few simple questions, so we can understand the best way to help you.

Or if you’d prefer to speak to us, call our helpline (free from all landlines and mobiles).