Consumer credit is at a record level and household debts for essential bills such as council tax and utilities now total nearly £19bn. So it’s no surprise that we at Citizens Advice have seen a marked increase in questions about bailiffs.
Don’t be bullied
Bailiffs (also called ‘enforcement agents’) visiting your home can be a stressful experience but you have rights and you shouldn’t be bullied. Bailiffs are only allowed to try to come into your home between 6am and 9pm. You shouldn’t let a bailiff into your home – it’s always best to try to sort out your debt by keeping them outside and speaking through the door or over the phone.
Bailiffs are only allowed to force entry for certain debts (court fines and HMRC tax debts) but they are allowed to come in through unlocked doors, so make sure your doors are locked and your windows closed.Call 999 if you’re being physically threatened by a bailiff.
Before you speak to a bailiff
Check online or with us the extra rules they should follow if you:
Get proof of who they are
If they say they’re a ‘debt collector’ tell them to leave – they don’t have the same powers as bailiffs.
If they say they’re a bailiff or enforcement agent, ask them to show you a badge, ID card or ‘enforcement agent certificate’. They’ll also need to tell you which company they’re from and give you a telephone contact number for the head office. Tell them to pass the documents through your letterbox or show you at a window and check with the “Certificated bailiffs register”. If they say they’re a high court enforcement officer, contact the court that sent them.
Tell them to leave if they can’t prove who they are. Say you’ll call 999.
What to do next
Ask for a full breakdown of the debt and who the ‘creditor’ is – the person or company they say you owe money to. Tell them to pass any documents through the letter-box or under the door and say you’ll speak to their head office to make arrangements to pay. They’ll normally leave if you refuse to let them in – but they’ll be back if you don’t arrange to pay your debt.
Check if the bailiff can force entry. They’ll need to show you proof of what you owe and a ‘warrant’ or a document called a ‘writ’ from a court. Check any documents are signed and in date and have your correct name and address. There should still be time to negotiate – bailiffs will usually prefer to make a payment agreement instead of forcing entry.
You can complain if the bailiff won’t leave and you think they’re harassing you.
If you let the bailiff into your home
If you can’t afford to pay what you owe straight away you’ll normally have to make a ‘controlled goods agreement’. This means you’ll agree to a repayment plan and pay some bailiff fees. If you don’t make an agreement the bailiffs could remove your things to sell – but they cannot take things you need such as your clothes, cooker, fridge and work tools and equipment worth up to £1350 or items belonging to someone else.
Need more help?
There’s more information on dealing with bailiffs and debts on our national website citizensadvice.org.uk and you can visit or phone your local Citizens Advice.