What is a bailiff?

A bailiff is a person who has been hired by a lender to collect payment for a debt that you owe. They usually work on behalf of the court, but there are also private agents who can be employed by a lender directly to collect money you owe.

They collect for debts such as council tax, county court judgements (CCJs), parking fines and even child maintenance/support. If you’re visited by a bailiff, they will either demand payment from you or use their legal right to take items from you to be sold to pay back your debt.

Can bailiffs force entry?

The general rule is that you don’t have to let bailiffs in should they visit. And as far as the law goes, they cannot force their way in on their first attempt at collection.

Bailiffs are only allowed to gain ‘peaceful entry’, which means that they can come in through:

  • An open door or gate
  • A garage
  • Loading bays

They cannot try to climb through open windows or jump your wall/fence to try and get in. If they do this, then you are within your right to call the police.

However, there are some cases when a bailiff can force entry. This is very much dependent on the type of debt they’re chasing you for and the type of paperwork they have

They can force entry when:

  • They have gained peaceful entry on a previous visit
  • They have a Magistrates Court warrant
  • Entering a commercial property

On the other hand, this doesn’t mean that they can come break your door down. If they cannot get in with ‘reasonable force’, then they will have to come back with a locksmith – which is very unlikely and doesn’t really happen.

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Can bailiffs enter your house when you are not there?

If you aren’t in when a bailiff visits, they cannot force their way in. They must give you a chance to let them in of your own accord and cannot try to get in without you knowing.

As mentioned above they are only allowed to make peaceful entry, which means it would be considered breaking and entering if you weren’t there.

What can bailiffs take?

It’s important to remember that bailiffs can’t take everything you own. There are some items that cannot be seized such as:

  • Clothing
  • Furniture
  • Bedding
  • Tools
  • Household goods such as your washing machine, oven or fridge
  • Things that don’t belong to you
  • Anything on hire purchase

In short, they can take things that are thought of as luxury items. This means things such as your TV, computer and jewellery can be seized and sold to pay back what you owe.

Can a bailiff take my car?

When it comes to your car, the rule goes that bailiffs can take this. It’s important to note, however, that even if you don’t let a bailiff in your home and your car is parked outside, then they can put a clamp on it or simply take it.

However, there are exceptions to this. Your car cannot be taken if:

  • It’s is necessary for your job
  • The car is paid for through hire purchase (finance)
  • You live in it (i.e. if it’s a motorhome, houseboat or caravan)
  • You are disabled and hold the blue badge for your car

If you’re worried that they make take your car, you can move it a few streets down, park it in your garage and keep it locked or simply make sure it’s not there when they arrive.

Can a bailiff refuse a payment plan?

Unfortunately, bailiffs do not have to accept a payment plan and can refuse what you offer.

It’s important to offer them an amount that you can afford, and even if this is refused you should still try and pay. This will help make it easier to come to an agreement.

You can also speak to the lender in question to try and come to an arrangement with them instead. They may be more willing to accept what you’re offering and get the debt sorted sooner rather than later.

For those who have county or high court debts, there’s also the option of applying to the court to decide your payments. You can usually find this out from the letter that a bailiff will send you.

How many times can a bailiff visit?

There is no set amount of times that a bailiff can come visit your home. If you are able to avoid them when they come to visit, they will likely return a number of times to try to speak to you and collect payment.

In the end, if they have tried quite a few times and been unsuccessful, they will take the warrant back to the court or council. However, we advise to try and make arrangements with the agents or the lender as soon as possible.

Can bailiffs take my belongings for someone else’s debt?

If bailiffs are at your door for a debt that isn’t yours, then they cannot take anything. However, if the person they are looking for owns things within your house – either jointly or fully – then these can still be taken.

The best thing to do in these situations is to ask the bailiff for the details of the debt or contact their office to explain the situation. You will likely be asked to prove that you aren’t the owner of the debt, which will mean you’ll need to provide ID or a letter that confirms you are not the person they’re chasing.

You should also send this evidence to the lender directly to prove that they have the wrong person and resolve the issue quickly before it gets out of hand. This information can usually be found on the paperwork sent/given to you by the bailiff.

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How to stop bailiffs

You can stop bailiffs before they appear at your door. They’ll usually send you a notice of enforcement telling you when they’ll be coming, so it’s important not to ignore this and act quickly.

The first step to take is to make sure the notice is legit. Both your details and details of the debt must be correct, and the letter must state that you have seven days to respond before they visit. It’s also important to check that it has been sent from a legitimate company, which you can check on the bailiffs’ register.

You can challenge the debt even if you owe it, but we wouldn’t recommend this as it can take a long time and won’t necessarily stop them visiting. If you don’t owe the debt, then you can follow the steps from the section above to stop them appearing at your door for something you don’t owe.

Want to know where you stand with what you owe? Diagnose your debts with TAD today to find out where you’re at along with tips and advice for your money management.