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Bailiff help and advice

What can bailiffs take when they visit you?

You may be wondering what bailiffs can take when they’re used to collect debt.

There are rules bailiffs must follow, setting out what they can and can’t take from your home. They can’t take whatever they feel like.

If you’re worried about bailiffs (also known as enforcement agents) we offer free debt advice.

What can bailiffs take from your home?

bailiff will look for goods you own that can be sold if you don’t pay the debt.

They can only take goods that they have access to and can remove. As a general rule they can only take goods into control if they can physically touch them. They can’t take goods into control just by seeing them through your window or letterbox.

Their main target will be motor vehicles, electrical goods, jewellery and furniture, but they’ll be interested in any goods which can be sold easily for a good price at auction.

Bailiffs can’t take everything and they must leave you with basic household items, including:

  • A cooker or microwave, a fridge and a washing machine
  • A landline or mobile phone
  • Beds and bedding for everyone in the house
  • A dining table and enough chairs to seat everyone in the house
  • Appliances to heat and light your house
  • Medical or care equipment

Some goods are protected and can’t be taken by a bailiff:

  • Goods which are owned by someone else – but they can take goods which you own jointly with someone else
  • Pets and assistance dogs
  • Tools, books or other equipment that are essential for your job or study, up to a maximum total value of £1,350
  • Goods you’ve bought on a hire purchase agreement, where the final payment hasn’t been made
  • Fixtures in your property such as kitchen units or fitted wardrobes
  • Goods which you’re currently using, such as machinery or a motor vehicle – although they can come back for these at a later date

Can bailiffs take my car?

If you have a vehicle this will often be the bailiff’s first target. Vehicles are easy to find, easy to sell and often the highest value item someone owns.

Bailiffs can include your vehicle in a controlled goods agreement, or they can tow away or clamp it. They can do this if your vehicle is parked at your home or on a public road. But they can’t take your vehicle if it’s parked on someone else’s private land, unless they have a court order allowing this.

Bailiffs can’t take all vehicles. The following are protected and can’t be taken into control:

  • A vehicle displaying a disabled badge, or which is obviously used by a disabled person
  • A vehicle which is on hire purchase or subject to a logbook loan where the last payment to the finance agreement hasn’t been made
  • A vehicle which is essential for your job (for example, your taxi if you’re a taxi driver) and which is worth less than £1,350
  • A vehicle such as a camper van, caravan or houseboat which is also someone’s main home

Bailiffs should always check the DVLA and Hire Purchase Index to confirm ownership of a vehicle before taking it into control.

If a bailiff knows you have a vehicle but they can’t find it at your home, they’ll often search neighbouring streets. Many bailiff vehicles have automatic number plate recognition (ANPR) cameras so they can spot vehicles they’re looking for while they’re driving around.

Need help with bailiffs?

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What will bailiffs do with my goods?

The bailiff will make an inventory of your goods, listing the things they’ll remove if you don’t pay the debt.

Once the goods have been added to this list, the bailiff has legally ‘taken them into control’. It’s then a criminal offence for you to sell, hide or damage these controlled goods. Only the bailiff is allowed to remove and sell them, until the debt has been paid off.

After the inventory has been made, the bailiff has four options to deal with your goods:

  1. The most common way is to leave them with you so you can keep using them, as long as you make agreed payments towards the debt. You’ll have to sign a ‘controlled goods agreement’ and the bailiff can come back and take the goods if you don’t pay.
  1. Remove your goods straight away and sell them – they’ll often threaten this, but the costs and inconvenience of removing goods means a controlled goods agreement (above) is usually far more likely.
  1. Clamp your vehicle on a public road or at your property. They can’t clamp your vehicle on someone else’s property, for example a supermarket car park or a neighbour’s drive, without a court warrant.
  1. Lock up your goods on your premises, for example in a room or garage. This is more common with business debts and it’s unlikely they’ll do this when they’re taking control of goods at your home.

Can I hide my goods from bailiffs, or sell them?

In some cases it’s okay to sell or hide your goods, or to remove them from your home to avoid the bailiffs.

However your rights to do this vary at different points in the enforcement process, so it’s very important to check what stage you’re at before you consider doing this.

  • Before you’ve received the first 'notice of enforcement' letter (PDF) you can safely hide, sell or remove any of your goods
  • If you’ve received the notice of enforcement letter but the bailiff hasn’t visited you, you can hide or remove goods. In some cases, if you’ve sold goods in this period the bailiff can ignore the sale and take the goods as if you still owned them
  • If the bailiff has visited and made an inventory of goods which they’ve taken into control it’s now a criminal offence to interfere with these. It’s very important you don’t hide, sell or remove them

Worried about how to deal with bailiffs? We can help.

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 Debt Remedy advice tool. It’s free to use, 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.