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Worried about what bailiffs can take from you?

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Bailiff and enforcement agents advice

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

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.

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. Find out more about your rights.
At present, home visits from sheriff officers in Scotland are on hold until further notice.

What can bailiffs take from your home?

A 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. 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

What are bailiffs not allowed to take?

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. However, some bailiffs may argue that they can take a hire purchase car
  • 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 enter your house when you're not there?

They can do this if someone in the property lets them in, or by making a ‘peaceable entry’ through a door. Peaceable entry means the bailiff either has your permission or has received authorisation to enter.

If you’re worried about bailiffs visiting when you’re not there, make sure all entrances are firmly locked when you’re out. If you live with other people, ask them not to let bailiffs in when you’re not there.

For most types of debt, bailiffs can only enter the property when somebody is home – and that person must be an adult and not classed as vulnerable.

Can bailiffs take my car?

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

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 it 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 subject to a logbook loan where the last payment to the finance agreement hasn’t been made. This is usually the case, although some bailiffs may try to take such a vehicle
  • 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

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.

Can a bailiff take control of a hire purchase vehicle?

As hire purchase vehicles are the property of a third party until they’re paid off, enforcement agents arguably have no right to take them.

However, the current regulations allow for different interpretations. Some bailiffs argue they are within their rights to take (or clamp) a car which is on a hire purchase agreement. They may try to do this.

What should I do if a bailiff is threatening to take or clamp my hire purchase car?

You can make a complaint on the basis that the car belongs to the hire purchase company, not you.

  1. Complain immediately, in writing, to the bailiff company, and keep a record of your letter
  2. Send the same complaint letter to the creditor that instructed the bailiff
  3. If the creditor is overseen by a regulator or ombudsman such as the Financial Ombudsman or Local Government Ombudsman, also send the complaint to them
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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. Leave them with you so you can keep using them, as long as you make agreed payments towards the debt. This is the most common way they use. 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 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. 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, even if the buyer now has 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 advice tool. It’s free to use and completely confidential.

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

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