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

Enforcement agents and bailiff advice

Bailiff rights and powers. What they can and can’t do

If you’re worried about bailiffs it’s good to know what rights you have and the powers they have, so you understand what a bailiff can and can’t do.

Bailiffs (also called enforcement agents) have to follow a set procedure and this helps determine when and where they can visit you.

alert iconUPDATE: Government legislation re: bailiff home visits in England and Wales

Bailiffs in England and Wales can now resume visits to people's homes in order to collect goods towards debts owed.

Bailiff visits were temporarily put on hold due to the coronavirus crisis, but they can now resume home visits as long as they abide by the latest government guidelines.

If you've been contacted by a bailiff, and you're worried about a potential home visit from 23 August, please get in touch with us.

At present, home visits from sheriff officers in Scotland are on hold until further notice.

Will I get any warning before bailiffs visit?

Bailiffs must always send a letter before they visit you. If your creditors have your current address, you’ll always get a warning before your first visit from a bailiff.

The process is as follows:

  1. Your creditor will instruct a bailiff to act for them using a ‘warrant of control’. This means they’re able to visit you to take away goods which can then be sold at auction.
  2. The bailiff will send you a letter called a notice of enforcement (PDF) which explains why they’ll be visiting you.
  3. You should pay off the debt, or agree repayment terms, within seven working days of receiving the letter. If you don’t, the bailiff will visit your home.
  4. They’ll usually try to come inside and make a list of your goods to be sold to pay what you owe, but it’s rare for them to take goods away on their first visit. They may make a ‘controlled goods agreement’ (PDF), which means that they’ll leave your goods with you on the understanding that you’ll make payments towards the debt.

signpost iconIf a bailiff doesn’t follow the right process, you can make a complaint about them. Find out more about making bailiff complaints.

What happens if I don’t let bailiffs in?

They may return and attempt to gain entry again. For some types of debt, if you keep refusing to let them in, they may apply to a judge for a warrant. This gives them the right to gain entry by force.

The fee for applying for this warrant will then be added to your debt. Find out more about bailiff costs and fees.

Alternatively, the creditor may withdraw the warrant if they think there’s no realistic chance that the bailiffs will be able to recover the money. This means they won’t return to your home.

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

In most cases a bailiff can only enter your house peacefully through a front or back door. This means they must:

  • Explain who they are
  • Say why they’re calling
  • Enter without using force, unless they have a warrant allowing them to do so (which is rare)

Find out more about dealing with bailiffs.

Can bailiffs force entry with a locksmith?

They’re not allowed to break down doors or use a locksmith unless they have a warrant that specifically allows them to do this. They also can’t:

  • Climb through a window
  • Push past you or put their foot in the door to stop you closing it
  • Enter the property when there’s only a child aged under 16 at home
  • Lie about who they are or why they’re calling

Can a bailiff force entry for council tax?

Can a bailiff force entry for council tax?

  • To collect a criminal fine or taxes owed to HM Revenue & Customs
  • To remove goods if there was a controlled goods agreement in place, but you didn’t pay what you’d agreed to pay

A bailiff cannot force entry to your home for a council tax debt unless they already have a controlled goods agreement in place.

Force is rarely used by bailiffs.

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When can the bailiffs visit?

A bailiff can visit you between 6am and 9pm.

They can only visit outside these times if they get a warrant from a court allowing this, or if they’re visiting you at a business premises which is only open outside of these hours.

They can visit any day of the week, but they should avoid religious or cultural festivals unless it’s absolutely necessary.

Where can the bailiffs visit?

Bailiffs can visit any property in England or Wales where you live, or run a business. In practice, they’re most likely to visit you at home.

Bailiffs can visit someone else’s property if your goods are stored there, but they need a court warrant first.

If you’re self-employed they can visit your business address. But if you work for someone else they shouldn’t call at your workplace.

They can also take any goods you’ve left on a public road, including your car. Some bailiffs use automatic number plate recognition (ANPR) cameras so they can identify wanted cars as they drive round. They can get your car details from the DVLA to help identify your car.

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 build a budget and get a personal action plan to deal with your debts now, use our free online debt advice tool. It’s confidential and only takes around 20 minutes to complete.

Or if you’d prefer to speak to us, call our Helpline (free from all landlines and mobiles). We’re open from Monday to Friday 8am to 8pm, and Saturday from 8am to 4pm.

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