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Knock knock – what to do if the bailiffs are at your door

MoneyMagpie team 30th Aug 2019 37 Comments

Reading Time: 5 minutes

It’s the nightmare scenario no-one wants to experience: being paid a visit by the bailiff. To escape the negativity associated with their original title, bailiffs now call themselves ‘enforcement agents’.

But, whether they call themselves a bailiff or enforcement agent, the one thing that has remained unchanged is, if you find one on your doorstep, you can guarantee they are after the debt owed.

Having your possessions taken away to pay off that debt is hardly a nice situation for anyone to be in. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed, backed into a corner and bullied, so it’s vital to know your rights and understand what you can do to protect yourself.


Who calls in the bailiffs?

Knock knock - what to do if the bailiffs are at your door

Bailiffs, or enforcement agents, can be used to collect unpaid council tax, business rates, personal debts, parking charge notices (PCNs), congestion charges, child support, tax, VAT or magistrates’ court fines. However, they usually only come calling when other methods of procuring the payment owed have failed.

It’s important to note that bailiffs aren’t the same as debt collectors. Debt collectors come from private firms and don’t have the same powers to enter your property or seize goods. Instead, bailiffs are Crown officials.

Organisations or people you owe money to must first get permission from a County Court in order to seize your property. This used to be called a Warrant of Execution, but, since April 2014, this has been known as a Warrant of Control or Writ of Control.

Once this has been procured, before they pay you a visit, the organisation then has to send you a notice of enforcement. This can be by post, hand delivery, fax, email or even fixing it to the front of your property. This explains why they are coming, and outlines what you can do to avoid a visit.

Regardless of the method used, you should be allowed at least seven days’ notice. The only circumstance in which they are allowed to visit your property within those first seven days is if they have a special court order.

Ideally, you will use those seven days to clear the debt before it reaches the point where a visit from the bailiff is necessary. You can do this by contacting the organisation you owe money to and write the debt off or negotiate payment terms.

For example, a debt owed to the magistrate’s court can be paid off in installments if you don’t have enough cash in hand to pay the lump sum. You could therefore apply to the court to suspend any action taken by the bailiff as long as you’re making those payments and continue to make them.

In some instances, however, the only way to stop the bailiff from calling is to pay in full upfront, so make sure you understand the exact terms of the debt during the seven-day notice period.


Make sure the bailiff is made aware if…

  • You have mental health problems.
  • You are under the age of 18.
  • You are over the age of 65.
  • English isn’t your first language and you can’t speak/read English fluently.
  • Have children (especially if they are in the house at the time of the visit) or are pregnant.
  • Have had a recent bereavement or suddenly unemployed.
  • You’re disabled or seriously ill.

If any of the above points apply to you, the bailiff operates under varying guidelines and should make allowances. It’s therefore within your best interest to make them aware of your situation upon visitation.


What a bailiff can and can’t do

Knock knock - what to do if the bailiffs are at your door

  • A bailiff cannot force their way into your property. They can’t put their foot in the door or push their way past you without a warrant. You are perfectly within your rights to pursue legal action if they enter your property without the necessary paperwork to hand.
  • At no point are they allowed to exhibit violent or threatening behaviour. If you’re made to feel vulnerable, you are entitled to lodge a complaint, call the police or order them to leave your property.
  • A bailiff can access the property through unlocked doors. If you’re expecting a visit from the bailiff, make sure all of your doors and windows are locked. However, in some circumstances, bailiffs can secure permission to enter a property using ‘reasonable force’. This doesn’t mean they will be kicking down your front door. Usually, they will return to your property with a locksmith.
  • Bailiffs cannot enter a property where the only occupants are children or vulnerable adults.
  • Bailiffs recovering money owed to HMRC are allowed to break into the debtor’s property. Once again, however, the bailiff cannot use force to enter the property.
  • Creditors can punish mortgage defaulters by obtaining an eviction order from a County Court. Then, bailiffs are entitled to break into the defaulter’s house using reasonable force.
  • Bailiffs recovering unpaid magistrates’ court fines have the power to force entry without a warrant in all circumstances.
  • A bailiff cannot confiscate essentials. ‘Essentials’ includes things like clothes, most furniture, your phone, microwave, fridge and washing machine.
  • Bailiffs cannot take items needed for study or ‘tools of the trade’.
  • The bailiff cannot take anything that is rented or hired.


What you can do

Knock knock - what to do if the bailiffs are at your door

If you haven’t been able to tackle the issue during the notice period, then you need to know what you can do when the bailiffs arrive.

The most important thing to remember is, unless they have a warrant or proof, you don’t have to let them in.

  • You need to take action. This means either contacting the organisation you owe money to, talking to the bailiffs through the letterbox or a window, or leaving the property to talk to them face to face.
  • Disputing the debt. You might think the organisation has made a mistake, or the money owed isn’t the correct sum. In these instances it’s essential you do not let them in to seize items, as this may count against you in the dispute.
  • Reach an agreement with them as to how they will be paid. Bailiffs have a bad reputation, but it’s important not to act aggressively or unreasonably when speaking with them.
  • Be polite and agreeable so you can effectively reach an agreement that suits both parties.
  • If you are physically threatened by a bailiff, report the incident to the police immediately.


Help getting out of debt

Are you struggling to pay off those debts? Would you like a debt-busting-buddy?

Well, we’d love to come round and give you a hand but there aren’t enough of us to go round!

Instead, we have put together a FREE set of helpful emails you can sign-up for that will give you hints, tips and encouragement to free yourself of the debt burden.

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  • Join Our Debt Email List


Find out more here…

For more advice on how to resist bailiffs, check out Citizens Advice at www.adviceguide.org.uk.

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4 years ago

I found that they have two types of debt collectors where one has the legal power and one does not have it. So the Bailiffs are Enforcement Agents and they have the legal right to visit your property and sell your assets to pay off the debts.

Pauline Haigh
Pauline Haigh
8 years ago

Our friend moved into a housing association flat 2 years ago. Ever since he has had a stream of bailiffs from various companies asking for the previous tenant. She apparently owes about £60,000 for various things including catalogue debt and parking fines. Andy keeps his passport and tenancy agreement near the door to show to bailiffs calling, but some still threaten him with bringing locksmiths to enter the premises and seize goods. How can he stop this from happening? It is causing him to suffer from depression and to be afraid to leave home in case he comes home to… Read more »

9 years ago

Need help. I mostly live abroad most of the year. I visit the Uk to see my kids for about 2 months a year and spend a few days at the house. I am separated from my ex partner. She recently got a letter in my name for a warrant of control from the bailiff for an old debt of mine. She is obviously scared that her properties will be taken, especially as some were originally bought by me. I am completely broke at the moment as I am being owed for work done abroad. How do I handle this… Read more »

9 years ago

Hi i received baillif letter for a parking ticket and a bus lane ticket. Went to council and paid them both but lady at counter failed to realise i was short on one of the tickets. In effect i have cleared one debt but, owe half on the other. I went back to council and same lady said she couldn’t take payment due to my records being sent to bailiff. She took payment days earlier even though my records were with bailiffs. Bailiffs are threatening to seize personal and tools of trade goods. They say council shouldn’t have accepted the… Read more »

Emma Copley Was Hewitson
Emma Copley Was Hewitson
10 years ago

bristow and suter have been to my property today i was at work but my son was home alone he is 16 he came out of his bedroom to find the bailiff outside his bedroom door as he had let himself in through the unlocked bk door are they allowed to do that without going through the court and having a warrent i thought only county court baliffs could do that

11 years ago

I’ve recently received a letter from bailiffs demanding payment of a parking fine. I have paid the fine and the price of one letter they sent. I have refused to pay for two visits they say they have made to my property as they have no proof that they visited. (I have only received one letter) They are now saying that will return with a police officer to demand payment of £100 or have me arrested. This is a for a parking ticket dont forget. Can they do this or are they just using intimidation tactics. We called the local… Read more »

11 years ago

I have work out th country for over six years now i left in quite a bit of debt to about 4 different creditors . I have now return to uk to live what should i do about them just leave them still or do i go bankrupt l also i want to set a new bank and i want to use a family address do i put them at risk of balliffs cause that will be the only know address in 6 years .

Jasmine Birtles

Your money-making expert. Financial journalist, TV and radio personality.

Jasmine Birtles

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