What is a bailiff?
An enforcement agent (or bailiff as they’re more commonly known) is someone who works on behalf of creditors. If you’ve ever watched shows like Can’t Pay, We’ll Take it Away you might have an idea of what a bailiff does, but not the full picture.
To put things simply, a bailiff’s job is to repossess your goods if you’ve defaulted on a payment arrangement – your goods will then be sold at auction in order to make up the money you owe. Whilst they’ll try to do this peacefully, bailiffs do have the right to force entry into your home to repossess your goods under certain circumstances if need be. They may also have the power to repossess your home and enforce certain arrest warrants.
How will I know if a bailiff is coming to my house?
A bailiff should never turn up at your house unannounced and without prior warning. In fact, they should only ever come to your home 7 days after they’ve issued you with a Notice of Enforcement. This is your official notification that an enforcement procedure against you has begun – once you’ve received this, you’ll have 7 days to either pay the debt or reach a payment agreement with the bailiffs.
If you don’t pay the debt or reach an agreement, the bailiff(s) will visit your home next. Bailiffs should only visit or enter your home under the following circumstances:
- Between the hours of 6am and 9pm (unless it’s for a business that only trades outside of those hours)
- This can be any day of the week including public and religious holidays
- They must use peaceful entry
- They can enter through an unlocked door, shed or garage (make sure you keep them locked!)
- They cannot enter if the only person in the property is a child under 16 or vulnerable person
What’s more, bailiffs can only ever visit your house to enforce the following unpaid debts:
- Council tax
- Business rates
- County Court Judgements
- High Court Judgements
- Magistrates Court fines
- Compensation Orders
- Child support
- Income tax
- National insurance
- Business rent
Bailiffs will charge a fee of £75 plus VAT for the issue of the Notice of Enforcement (in addition to the money they’re trying to collect from you), so coming to a prior repayment arrangement with them is definitely the best option.
Is there anything I can do to stop the bailiffs coming to my house?
Just because you’ve got a bailiff enforcing action against you doesn’t mean you can’t challenge it. If the bailiff is enforcing a debt that’s gone through the High or County Court, you can apply to the court to have the enforcement action suspended.
If you’re trying to suspend bailiffs who’re acting on behalf of the County Court, then you’ll need to fill in Form N245, which is an Application to Suspend a Warrant. It’s easy to get one of these – just head over to www.gov.uk to download it for free or get it directly from your local County Court. Once you’ve got the form, simply complete it (instructions on how to do this are included on the form) and send it to your local County Court with the relevant fee.
If it’s a High Court enforcement you’re applying to get suspended, you’ll need to apply for a Stay of Execution by filling in form N244 – you can find out more on how to do this by contacting your local Citizen’s Advice Bureau.
How can bailiffs force entry into my home?
One of the most common questions we get on the phone from clients is whether bailiffs can force entry into their homes or not.
Although we can completely understand why you might be worried about bailiffs forcing their way into your home, the chances are that it won’t come to this. Bailiffs only force entry as a last resort, and you’ll have plenty of prior notice before the enforcement gets to this stage.
What’s more, the type of debt you owe might not be one a bailiff can force entry to collect.
The types of debt that bailiffs CAN force entry into your home to collect include:
- CSA arrears
- Criminal driving offences (e.g. speeding fines, fines for non-payment of road tax, no insurance)
- Criminal police fines (e.g. drunk & disorderly, assault, possession of drugs)
- Evading public transport payments
- Truancy fines
- VAT debts
- Magistrates Court fines for criminal offences
- Environmental Agency fines
A bailiff will also only force entry through the use of a locksmith. They should never try and push past you into your home unless they’re acting for the Inspector of Taxes, and have a warrant to force entry on a first visit (this is very rare).
Bailiffs CAN’T force entry into your house to collect:
- County Court Judgments (CCJ’s) for debts covered by the Consumer Credit Act such as unsecured loans, credit cards, catalogues, pay day loans, store cards and overdrafts
- BrightHouse debts – household goods on Hire Purchase.
- Parking Charge Notices
- Congestion charge
- Council Tax debts
- Business rates
If a bailiff tries to enter your house to collect on behalf of any of the items above, then they’re acting illegally and you should call the police.
Remember – paying the money you owe means a bailiff won’t be able to force entry into your home for any reason whatsoever. You don’t even have to pay the full amount in one go either – most of the time a bailiff will take a lump sum of the total amount and then agree to a payment plan that’s affordable for you.
What can bailiffs take?
If a bailiff enters your home (through either peaceful or forced entry) they’ll be able to seize goods using a Controlled Goods Agreement. This basically involves the bailiff going around your house and taking an inventory of any of your belongings they’re allowed to take, along with a description of the item, its serial number and the manufacturer’s name.
Items a bailiff can seize include (but are not limited to):
- Your vehicle – this will usually be the first thing a bailiff looks at, but if, for example, you’re a courier or tradesman who needs their vehicle for work, you might be able to keep it. Bailiffs aren’t allowed to seize any vehicle vital to your job worth under £1350, but if it’s worth anything over this they may take it.
- Electrical luxuries/gadgets – These tend to be things like televisions, games consoles, computers, laptops or other electrical gadgets. Remember, bailiffs only want a to seize things that are likely to sell at auction so they can recover the debts, which is why valuable items like this are high on a bailiff’s list.
Items a bailiff can’t seize include:
- Hire purchase vehicles – if you’ve still got payments outstanding on a vehicle you’ve hired, a bailiff won’t be allowed to take it.
- Anything that’s essential to your day to day living – this means that anything that lights or heats your house is out of bounds, as well as any mobile or landline phones. Bailiffs also aren’t allowed to touch things like cookers, microwaves, washing machines, clothes, bedding or medical equipment.
- Anything that’s essential to your job or study up to a value of £1350 like tools, books etc.
- Valuables that aren’t owned by you (if you’re living with someone else the person may have to prove that the possessions belong to them with receipts, confirmations of purchases etc.)
- Fixed or fitted items like kitchen units
- Tables and chairs if you don’t have any others in the house (or enough for everyone who lives in the house)
Once the inventory of all the repossessed items has been completed, both you and the bailiff will have to sign the Controlled Goods Agreement. You can ask someone to sign it on your behalf (you’ll get a copy) if you’re not present for the repossessions, but the person will have to be aged over 18. If you refuse to sign it the bailiff will simply repossess your items.
Depending on whether or not the repossessed items will cover your outstanding debt, you might have to come to a payment agreement with the bailiff to repay the outstanding balance you owe.
If a bailiff takes my goods can I get them back?
Yes. If a bailiff takes control of your possessions, they’ll be held in storage for a period of 7 days. Once they’ve been removed the bailiff will give you a Notice of Sale, which will tell you when and where your possessions are going to be sold.
If you’re able to raise the money you owe before the 7 days are over, you’ll have all of your goods returned to you.
If you can’t get the money you need to get your goods back, they may be sold on Ebay or at an auction. Once sold, you’ll get a notification of how much your goods have been sold for and if you still owe any money. Should your goods sell for more than the amount of money you owe, you’ll get the remaining money back.
Is there more than one type of bailiff?
Whilst all bailiffs essentially perform the same job, there are different types of bailiff for different types of debts. These include:
Certificated/Private Bailiffs – Empowered to take control of goods to recover rent arrears, Council tax, Business rates and parking fines.
County Court Bailiffs– Deals with enforcing orders granted through the County Court, e.g CCJ’s or Court Summons for a sum of money or orders for possession of the property.
High Court Bailiffs – If a creditor has a County Court Judgment of more than £5000 (including costs) they can transfer the judgment to the High Court for enforcement – unless the debt is regulated by the Consumer Credit Act, as these can only be enforced through the County Court.
Magistrates Court Bailiffs – Mainly deal with money owed in criminal offences.
What fees can bailiffs charge?
As you might imagine, different types of bailiffs will charge different fees in order to carry out their work. These include:
County Court bailiff fees:
- Compliance stage £75 (plus an extra 7%)
- Enforcement Fee £235 (+7.5% if over £1500)
- Sale/Disposal Fee £110 (+7.5% if over £1500)
High Court bailiff fees:
- Compliance £75
- First Enforcement stage £190 (+7.5% if over £1000)
- Second Enforcement stage £495
- Sale £525 (+ 7.5% if over £1000)
How do I complain about a bailiff?
Whilst most bailiffs will act within the realms of the law and behave professionally, there is, unfortunately, a minority that might not. They may try to act in a threatening or intimidating manner, or try to seize goods when they shouldn’t. Some might try to act beyond their power. Others may simply not follow the correct procedure they should do, and break the laws designed to protect people in debt.
In any case, if you believe a bailiff is behaving in a way they shouldn’t you’ve got every right to make a complaint. Here’s how to do it:
- Complain to the bailiff’s firm
This is the quickest way to raise a complaint about a particular bailiff or bailiffs.
- Complain to the creditor who the bailiff is working for
If complaining to the bailiff’s firm doesn’t work, then the next step should be to complain to the creditor. You can check online to see if the creditor has a formal complaints procedure or any codes of conduct you can reference when complaining about the bailiff’s behaviour.
- Complain to the bailiff’s professional or trade organisation
If complaining to the creditor of bailiff’s firm doesn’t work (and you’re genuinely aggrieved at the treatment you’ve received) then take the matter to a professional body like the Civil Enforcement Association.
All bodies such as this have the power to discipline and even exclude the membership of individual bailiffs, and they may award you compensation for your treatment if they deem it necessary.
You can find out which court a bailiff is registered at www.certificatedbailiffs.justice.gov.uk
If you’d like further help, please contact our Advice Team on 0800 917 7819.
To download this page please see our Bailiff Enforcement Advice factsheet.