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If someone who appears to be a bailiff visits your home or writes to you, you’re likely to have a lot of questions.
Are these real bailiffs? Can they arrest me if I don’t do what they say? Will the bailiffs enter my house while I’m not here?
Contact from a bailiff is usually a sign that your debts have got out of control. So don’t delay in getting expert debt advice. But in the meantime, here's what you need to know if and when a bailiff visits.
What are bailiffs?
‘Bailiff’ is another name for the debt enforcement agents with legal powers to collect debts on behalf of creditors in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. Scotland has Sheriff Officers instead, and they work a little differently - so bear that in mind as you read on.
A bailiff can usually only be sent to your property following court action. (The exception to this is HM Revenue & Customs, who can send bailiffs without going through the courts.) This court action could have been taken by:
- • a creditor, either to enforce debts or fines, or to repossess goods if you’re still in the process of paying for them and have fallen behind on your payments
- • or a landlord, to evict you from their property
This blogpost only refers to bailiffs trying to enter your house to recover debts. If you’ve had any contact from bailiffs about an eviction, you most likely need urgent housing advice.
The first step in any bailiff action is a letter, called a notice of enforcement, to let you know they’ll be coming. Bailiffs can only visit you seven or more working days after they’ve sent you one of these letters. If you’ve received a notice of enforcement, get expert debt advice straightaway.
Are there different types of bailiffs?
There are four kinds of bailiffs. Which kind of bailiff is visiting your home depends on the type of debt you owe:
Private bailiffs often collect for the local authority (ie the council) and for HMRC. So they usually deal with council tax arrears, parking fines and other tax debts. But it's possible for any creditor to employ a private bailiff.
County Court bailiffs are instructed when a creditor has a County Court Judgment (CCJ).
High Court Enforcement Officers are, as the name suggests, instructed by the High Court. If a creditor has a CCJ for over £600 (this figure includes court costs) they can transfer the judgment to the High Court for enforcement. This does not apply to debts regulated by the Consumer Credit Act - only the County Court can enforce these.
Magistrates Court bailiffs mostly deal with fines for criminal offences.
Are bailiffs the same as debt collectors?
Debt collectors - also known as doorstep collectors or field agents - may contact you on behalf of a creditor by phone or by letter. They are not the same thing as bailiffs - see our blog Debt collectors, bailiffs and HCEOs: What’s the difference? to find out more.
If a debt collector does visit your house, you don’t have to open the door to them or let them in. The most they can do is ask you to make repayments, but you do not have to pay them. You can just ask them to leave, and they have to do so - but the debt won’t go away! Don’t be tempted to bury your head in the sand: get expert debt advice as soon as you can.
If someone comes to your property and you’re not sure whether they’re a debt collector or a bailiff, ask to see their ID - do this through a window or the letterbox to stop them gaining entry to the property. You can then check that they are who they say they are:
- • If they say they’re a civilian enforcement officer or a court bailiff, contact the court that sent them to check
- • If they claim to be a certificated enforcement agent, check the register
- • Or if claim to be a high court enforcement officer, check the directory
If they can’t provide evidence that they have the authority to be there, tell them to go - and call 999 if they don’t.
Can bailiffs enter my house?
It’s important to know what powers bailiffs have when they come to your property, because they won’t always tell you the truth. Here’s what you need to know:
Most bailiffs can only enter residential property through a door, in a peaceful way, with your permission. There are exceptions: bailiffs collecting tax debts or criminal fines may try to enter your house with the help of a locksmith. But they need court permission to do this. In practice, bailiffs rarely do this.
Bailiffs cannot legally visit between 9pm and 6am. They can’t break in, or push past you - if a bailiff threatens you physically, call 999.
If a bailiff enters your house they’ll usually make a list of the possessions you have that they could sell to pay off the debts. They don’t normally take the items straight away, but will return to collect them later.
Once a bailiff has entered your house and made this list of items, they are legally allowed to use ‘reasonable force’ to enter your house in the future. It’s therefore not a good idea to let a bailiff into your home in the first place. Don’t open the door; don’t sign anything that they give you; and get expert debt advice straightaway.
There are extra rules bailiffs need to follow if you’re vulnerable in any way. This might apply to you if, for example, you’re ill or disabled, have mental health problems, or are pregnant. You can find these rules on the Citizens Advice website.
If I don’t let the bailiffs in, will they come back and enter the house when I’m not there?
For most kinds of debt, bailiffs are not allowed to enter your property if no-one is in. They are also not allowed to enter your house if the only people there are under 16 or vulnerable (for example, due to disability). To make sure bailiffs don't enter your property when you’re not there, lock all doors and windows when you leave the house. Don't forget to lock the porch door if you have one.
If you live with other people, make sure they know not to let the bailiffs enter the house when you’re not there.
What will the bailiffs do if they can’t get in?
If there’s a car on your driveway, the bailiffs could take this instead. See Can bailiffs take my car? to find out more about how this works, and what to do if it happens.
It’s also likely that your creditor will add to your debt, to cover the cost of the bailiffs visiting your home. So, although we hope we've given you some tips on how to protect your property from bailiffs, it’s really important to get debt advice as soon as you can. Contact from bailiffs - or even debt collectors - is a sign that you need help to sort out your debts. Click here to find out more about the debt solutions available to help you.
by Christine WalshBack to blog home