Expecting a visit from the bailiffs (also known as enforcement officers) can be a very scary and stressful experience. There are certain rights that you have and powers and procedures that a bailiff should follow.
Contact your local advice agency or debt specialist if you need specialist help and advice about bailiffs and how to deal with all of your debts.
What to expect
Prior to a bailiff visiting your home they must follow certain procedures as outlined below:
- The bailiff will initially receive instruction from your creditor to enforce the debt. This is referred to as a ‘warrant of control’.
- You will then be sent a letter, known as ‘a notice of enforcement’ from the bailiff firm instructed. This notice gives you seven working days’ warning that they intend to visit your home.
- If you have not paid the debt since receiving the notice of their intention to visit, they will visit you. It will be the intention of the bailiff to come into your home and make a list of your goods, known as an inventory.
- The bailiff will not normally take goods away on their first visit. It is usual practice for the goods to be left with you, provided that you make agreed repayments towards the debt. This process is called a ‘controlled goods agreement’.
- If you fail to make the payments agreed under the controlled goods agreement, the bailiff will return to your home and take away your goods (as listed under the agreement) to be sold.
Visiting times and days
A visit can occur between the hours of 6am and 9pm. A bailiff can visit you outside of these times as long as they obtain a warrant from a court allowing them to do this. They can also visit you at your business premises if it is only open outside of these hours. Although a bailiff can also visit you on any day of the week, Sundays and religious festivals should be avoided, unless it’s absolutely necessary.
In the majority of cases a bailiff can only enter your house by gaining peaceful entry through either a front or back door.
A bailiff is allowed to use force to enter your home, if they are collecting a criminal fine or taxes owed to HM Revenue & customs and in some cases to remove goods if you made a controlled goods agreement but you’ve not paid what you promised.
In the majority of cases the bailiff must apply for a warrant from a judge before being allowed to use force. Force is rarely used and they are not allowed to break in without giving you a chance to let them in voluntarily.
Peaceful entry means that:
- The bailiffs must explain who they are and show you ID when asked
- The bailiffs must explain to you why they are visiting you
- They can only enter your property with your permission
- They must enter your property without using force
- They must not climb through a window
- They must not break down doors or use a locksmith
- They cannot push past you or put their foot in the door to stop you closing it
- The bailiff is not allowed to enter the property when there’s only a child under 16 at home
- The bailiffs must not lie about who they are or why they are visiting your property
Where can the bailiffs visit?
In England and Wales, bailiffs are allowed to visit your home and where you run a business if you are self-employed. They should not call at your place of work, if you work for someone else. Bailiffs can also visit another person's property if your goods are stored there, provided they obtain a court warrant first.
Goods and possessions
A bailiff will seek to remove goods where the value is enough to pay the debt you owe, routinely this will be goods they have access to and can easily remove. The bailiff is not able to take goods into control just by seeing them through your window or letterbox, they would need to be able to physically touch them. The main goods of interest will be, vehicles, electrical goods, jewellery and furniture, providing the items can be sold easily and for a good price at auction.
Bailiffs are not able to take everything and they must leave you with basic household items. A bailiff should not take the following:
- Goods that are worth more than you actually owe
- Clothing, bedding, furniture and basic household items that are necessary to satisfy the basic domestic needs of you and your household
- A cooker or microwave
- A refrigerator
- A washing machine
- A dining table and chairs for you and your household
- Medical or care equipment
- A television that is in use (don't switch it off!)
Some goods are protected and are not allowed to be taken by a bailiff:
- Goods which are owned by someone else (see below)
- Pets and assistance dogs
- Tools, books, telephones, computers, vehicles and other items of equipment that are necessary for your use for your job, business or education, of up to a value of £1,350
- Hire purchase agreement items, where the final payment hasn’t been made
- Fixtures in your property, for example; kitchen units or fitted wardrobes
- Goods which you’re currently using, such as machinery or a motor vehicle, but the bailiff can return for these at a later date
If the bailiffs do take control of goods that are protected, you are able to make a court claim for the goods to be returned to you.
Goods owned by another person
A bailiff should not take control of goods that are rented or owned by another person. You should explain to the bailiff that the item does not belong to you. You will need the owner of the goods to provide a receipt or provide a sworn statement, called a statutory declaration.
If goods that belong to another person are taken, that person would need to write to the bailiff explaining that they own the goods. You can also make an application to the court, but you will be required to pay a deposit. The amount of the deposit will vary depending on the value of the goods.
If a jointly owned item belongs to you and your partner and your partner is not subject to the warrant of control, they can take the goods, but they will only be entitled to the value of your share of the goods.
Goods of no or little value
Sometimes the goods you own are not worth enough to cover the cost of the bailiff coming back with a van to remove and sell them. In this situation they will have twelve months from the date of the enforcement notice to take control of your goods. However they are likely to agree instalments on the debt. If you do not pay, then the twelve months will start when the arrangement has been broken.
The bailiffs should not take control of goods that are worth more than you actually owe unless there is only one item that the bailiff thinks is worth taking, such as your vehicle.
If you hide your goods away (for example at another location) and the bailiffs haven’t yet been in they can apply to the court for permission to break into the place where the goods are. If the bailiffs have already been in and obtained a control of your goods agreement, you will be committing an offence if you remove those goods.
Goods outside of your home, such as vehicles , are also at risk. Your vehicle (if you have one) should be kept in a locked garage. If you park the vehicle on your drive, it could be clamped. If you decide to park the vehicle away from your home, on a public road, you risk the vehicle being clamped and removed if the bailiff finds it. Automatic number plate recognition (ANPR) cameras, are used by some bailiff firms. ANPR cameras can identify wanted cars as the bailiff drives round. The details of your car can be obtained from the DVLA. Before taking control of a vehicle however the bailiff should check the DVLA and Hire Purchase Index to confirm you are the legal owner of the vehicle.
The following vehicles are protected and can’t be taken into control by the bailiff:
- Where a disabled badge is being displayed, or when it is obvious the vehicle is used by a disabled person
- Any vehicle subject to a logbook loan and the last payment on the finance agreement hasn’t been paid
- A vehicle which is essential for you to carry out your job/business and is worth less than £1,350 (such as a taxi)
- A vehicle such as a camper van, caravan or houseboat when it is your main home
Hire purchase vehicles
Under the current regulations some bailiffs may interpret the law differently and argue they are within their rights to take (or clamp) a car which is subject to a hire purchase agreement, (a vehicle you are not the legal owner of until it has been paid for).
If a bailiff does threaten, clamp or remove your hire purchase vehicle you could make a complaint in writing, to the bailiff firm, keep a copy for your own reference and also send a copy to the creditor that instructed the bailiff. You could also send a copy of the complaint to a regulator or ombudsman such as the Financial Ombudsman or Local Government Ombudsman.
When a creditor uses a bailiff as part of the debt collection process, bailiffs’ fees are added to the total amount of the debt. The standard fee structure is:
- £75 for being instructed by the creditor, and for carrying out initial checks, investigations and receiving payments
- £235 (+7.5% of the debt’s value over £1,500) to cover visiting and entering the premises and taking control of goods
- £110 (+7.5% of the debt’s value over £1,500) to cover attending your home, to remove your goods for sale, valuing them and arranging for them to be sold
- The cost of storing your goods which the bailiff has removed
- The cost of hiring a locksmith, if one is required
If the total amount of debt is over £1,500 or if your goods are later sold at auction, further fees can be charged.
High court writs
If a High Court enforcement officer (HCEO) has been instructed for a high court writ, the fees will be higher and as follows:
- £75 For being issued a writ of control, for initial visits and the issue of the enforcement notice.
- £190 (+7.5% of the debt’s value over £1,000) to cover visiting and entering the premises and taking control of goods
- £495 can be charged for either of the following situations.; There is no controlled goods agreement. Or you have made a controlled goods agreement but not kept to it
- £525 (+7.5% of the debt’s value over £1,000) to remove goods for sale
- The cost of storing your goods which the bailiff has removed
- The cost of hiring a locksmith, if one is required
If you don’t think the bailiffs have correctly followed procedures or if they have not behaved properly you could address your complaint to the local authority as the bailiffs are acting as their agent. If your complaint is not dealt with you can escalate the complaint to the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman (LGSCO). Visit www.lgo.org.uk/contact-us or telephone 0300 061 0614. The LGSCO may not look at the complaint if you are able to ask the County Court to look at it instead, for example, if there is a dispute about who owns the goods. When you make a complaint, do it in writing, obtain a copy and send a copy to both the creditor who instructed the bailiff and the bailiff firm.
The Taking Control of Goods - National Standards
These are good practice guidelines, setting out the rules and procedures that the bailiffs should follow. Further details can be found at https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/bailiffs-and-enforcement-agents-national-standards.
The Civil Enforcement Association (CIVEA)
Civea is a trade body which many private bailiff firms belong to. Check to see if the bailiff firm is a member of CIVEA and if so you may be able to make a formal complaint to them. Visit www.civea.co.uk/complaints for a members list and details of how to complain.
To check the courts register for certificated bailiffs visit https://certificatedbailiffs.justice.gov.uk/
To check the High Court Enforcement register, visit: https://www.hceoa.org.uk/members/authorised-members-directory