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Bailiff and enforcement agents advice

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

What if I get a threatening letter from a bailiff about my debts?

Bailiffs in England & Wales are now known as ‘enforcement agents’, but the general public still call them bailiffs. They have the legal power to remove and sell your goods to pay a debt.

In most cases, bailiffs can only get involved after your creditor has taken you to court.

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.

In this section we highlight what bailiffs can and can’t do, and what bailiffs can take when they visit. We'll also talk about bailiffs' fees and your rights when dealing with bailiffs. On this page we highlight some of the important questions we get asked about bailiffs.

If you're worried about bailiffs, get in touch with us for free debt help.

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

In most cases bailiffs are supposed to enter your home ‘peaceably’ through a front or back door. This means they’re not allowed to use force or enter your home without your permission.

There are some circumstances where bailiffs are allowed to force entry, but they should give you chance to let them in voluntarily first. Find out more about bailiff rights and powers.

When can bailiffs visit?

Unless they have a court warrant giving them extra rights, they can visit you at home between 6am and 9pm, any day of the week. They’re supposed to avoid religious or cultural festivals but may still attend if necessary. You can make a complaint to a bailiff if they visit you when they’re not supposed to.

Where can bailiffs visit you?

Bailiffs usually visit your home, but they're allowed to visit any property where you live or run a business. They shouldn’t visit your workplace unless you’re self-employed. Need help dealing with bailiffs?

Can a bailiff refuse a payment plan?

If your budget clearly shows what you can and can’t afford to pay, the bailiff should pass your offer of payment to the creditor.

They may refuse to do this if they feel your offer isn’t reasonable.

If this happens, you should:

  • continue paying anyway
  • contact your creditor directly and see if they’ll accept your offer – they’ll usually ask to see your budget to understand what you can afford to pay

What debts do bailiffs collect?

Bailiffs can’t collect Consumer Credit Act-regulated debts like payday loans, credit cards or overdrafts unless:

  1. The creditor has taken you to court and obtained a County Court judgment (CCJ), and
  2. You ignored the CCJ or didn’t pay the amount the court ordered

As well as unpaid CCJs, bailiffs collect several other types of debt, including:

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How do I complain about a bailiff?

If you think a bailiff has broken the rules when dealing with you, there are different ways to complain, depending on the type of debt they’re collecting. In the first instance, send your complaint to the bailiff’s employer and a copy to the creditor. Read our guide to bailiff complaints

Can the police get involved with bailiffs?

The police can only help a bailiff do their job in very limited circumstances.
This is allowed if:

  • The bailiff is enforcing a High Court writ of control
  • The bailiff has applied to the court for a warrant to force entry, and the court has agreed that the police can help with this

The police can’t help the bailiff in any other circumstances.

The police may attend with a bailiff to make sure there’s no disturbance. They have to remain impartial and they can’t help the bailiff.

Once a bailiff has made a list of your goods and taken them into control, you can also be arrested if you hide, remove or deliberately damage any of these goods.

If you act in a threatening or aggressive manner you could be arrested. The bailiff could also be arrested if they act like this. You can also be arrested if you ‘obstruct’ a bailiff, for example by physically stopping them from removing goods.

You can’t be arrested for refusing entry to a bailiff if they’ve not already been in and made a list of goods.

Bailiff evictions and house repossession

When people are evicted from their homes following repossession, bailiffs are usually instructed by the county court to make sure the repossessed property is returned to the lender. An eviction notice will be sent by the bailiffs and anyone living in the property will be asked to leave.

In some cases the landlord can instruct High Court enforcement officers to carry out the eviction instead, but they must give notice of eviction, except when evicting trespassers.

Can I be contacted by bailiffs when I'm on an IVA?

If you receive any threatening debt enforcement action, such as from bailiffs or about a County Court judgment (CCJ), you should contact us or your IVA supervisor as soon as possible. Find out more about being contacted by creditors on an IVA.

Will they be like the bailiffs I’ve seen on TV?

Documentaries about bailiffs often focus on business debts or repossessions of homes or vehicles. This is because they have a legal right to break into property in these cases. For most types of debt, they don’t have a right to break in.

The reality is that bailiffs spend a lot of their time knocking on doors and making payment arrangements. This doesn’t make very interesting TV. Viewers are more likely to be interested in emotional or confrontational situations, even though these are not as common in reality.

Of course dealing with bailiffs will never be a pleasant experience, but the situations depicted in TV soaps and documentaries often make it look a lot worse.

What's the difference between bailiffs and debt collectors?

The most important thing to know is that a debt collector doesn’t have any special legal powers to collect a debt, whereas a bailiff does. Read our guide to bailiffs and debt collectors to find out more.

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 get the right help for your situation, take two minutes to answer a few simple questions, so we can understand the best way to help you.