A bailiff (‘enforcement agent’) may visit your home if you don’t pay your debts - such as Council Tax bills, parking fines, court fines and county court or family court judgments.
There’s a different process in Scotland.
This will happen if you ignore letters saying that bailiffs will be used.
You might be arrested if you don’t pay criminal debts, such as fines or penalty notices.
A bailiff may also visit your home for other reasons, for example to serve court documents or give notices and summons.
There are different kinds of bailiffs, known as:
- ‘certificated enforcement agents’
- ‘high court enforcement officers’
- ‘county court and family court bailiffs’
- ‘civilian enforcement officers’
Bailiffs must usually give you at least 7 days’ notice of their first visit.
Pay what you owe before a bailiff visits
If you think a bailiff might visit you to collect debts, you can stop this by paying the money you owe. Get advice about how to pay your debt from whoever you owe money to as soon as possible.
Dealing with bailiffs
You usually don’t have to open your door to a bailiff or let them in.
Bailiffs can’t enter your home:
- by force, for example by pushing past you
- if only children under 16 or vulnerable people (with disabilities, for example) are present
- between 9pm and 6am
- through anything except the door
Bailiffs are allowed to force their way into your home to collect unpaid criminal fines, Income Tax or Stamp Duty, but only as a last resort.
If you don’t let a bailiff in or agree to pay them:
- they could take things from outside your home, for example your car
- you could end up owing even more money
If you do let a bailiff in but don’t pay them they may take some of your belongings. They could sell the items to pay debts and cover their fees.
Check the bailiff’s identity
Before you let a bailiff in to take your things or pay them, ask to see:
- proof of their identity, such as a badge, ID card or enforcement agent certificate
- which company they’re from
- a telephone contact number
- a detailed breakdown of the amount owed
You can ask for proof of a bailiff’s identity and authorisation even if they’ve visited before - for example, ask them to put it through the letterbox or show it at the window.
All bailiffs must have a certificate unless they’re exempt or they’re with someone who does have a certificate.
Anyone who claims to be a bailiff and isn’t one is committing fraud.
To check a bailiff’s identity, find out what kind of bailiff they are from their proof of identity and then:
- check the register of certificated bailiffs if they say they’re a certificated enforcement agent (contact the county court business centre if you have a question)
- check the list if they say they’re a high court enforcement officer
- contact the court that sent them if they say they’re a county court bailiff, family court bailiff or a civilian enforcement officer
Paying a bailiff
You can pay the bailiff on the doorstep - you don’t have to let them into your home.
Make sure you get a receipt to prove you’ve paid.
If you can’t pay all the money right away, speak to the bailiff about how you could pay the money back.
Offer to pay what you can afford in weekly or monthly payments.
The bailiff doesn’t have to accept your offer.
What bailiffs can and can’t take
If you let a bailiff into your home, they may take some of your belongings to sell.
Bailiffs can take luxury items, for example a TV or games console.
They can’t take:
- things you need, such as your clothes, cooker or fridge
- work tools and equipment which together are worth less than £1,350
- someone else’s belongings, such as your partner’s computer
You’ll have to prove that someone else’s goods don’t belong to you.
What bailiffs can charge
How much you pay depends on your situation. Citizens Advice has information on bailiff’s fees.
Some bailiffs (such as high court enforcement officers) add VAT to their fees.
Help or advice
You can get free help or advice on dealing with bailiffs from: