May 27

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

What do you do when the bailiffs are at your door? The thought of having your possessions taken away is enough to run anyone’s blood cold, so it’s vital to know your rights and understand what you can do to protect yourself.

Who calls in the bailiffs?

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Bailiffs were renamed in 2014 as ‘enforcement agents’ – as part of an overhaul intended to make them less archaic. They’ll use this term whenever they communicate with you, but most people still call them bailiffs.

They can be used to collect unpaid council tax, business rates, personal debts (if you have persistently refused to pay them and other debt collection attempts have failed), parking charge notices (PCNs), congestion charges, child support, tax, VAT or magistrates’ court fines.

Bailiffs aren’t the same as debt collectors, which are private firms that don’t have the same powers to enter your property or seize goods. Instead, bailiffs are Crown officials.bailiffs are at your door

People you owe this money to must 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 has been known as a warrant of control or writ of control.

Before they pay you a visit, they have to send you a notice of enforcement – either by post, hand delivery, fax, email or fixing it to the front of your property. This explains why they are coming, and outlines what you can do to avoid a visit. It should give you at least seven days’ notice – unless they have a court order giving them permission to give you less notice.

At this stage, you can stop the bailiffs coming if you have grounds to dispute the debt. You may also be able to contact the organisation you owe money to and ask them to write the debt off, or negotiate payment terms. If it’s the magistrate’s court, you can make an offer to pay by instalments, and may be able to apply to the court to suspend bailiff action for as long as you are paying those instalments. You may be able to contact the bailiffs and make them a reasonable offer. In some instances, however, the only way to stop them coming is to pay in full.

What a bailiff can and can’t do

  • A bailiff cannot force their way into your property. That includes pushing their way past you when you open the door to them, or leaving their foot in the door to prevent you closing it. Such action is technically illegal.
  • They are not allowed to use violence.
  • A bailiff can gain access to your property legitimately by using an unlocked door – although the rules established in 2014 mean they are no longer allowed to climb in through a window.
  • They may not gain access if the only people home are children or vulnerable adults.
  • Providing they have a magistrate’s warrant, bailiffs recovering money owed to HMRC are allowed to break into the debtor’s 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.
  • Bailiffs recovering unpaid magistrates’ court fines have the power to force entry without a warrant in all circumstances.bailiffs are at your door
  • A bailiff cannot confiscate essentials – like clothes and most furniture. The new rules updated the list of items considered essentials, which now includes things like the fridge, phone, microwave and washing machine.
  • The new rules also mean they can no longer take items used for the care of children, disabled people and the elderly.
  • They also cannot take items needed for study.
  • They cannot take ‘tools of the trade’, such as a computer used for work.
  • Obviously, they cannot take anything that is rented or hired – that would defeat the object.
  • They may take non-essentials, such as televisions, personal computers, cars and garden equipment – although they are not allowed to take a car that is needed by a disabled person.

What you can do

  • By far the best approach is to tackle the issue before the bailiffs arrive.
  • However, if they come, you do not have to let them in.
  • If you want to stop them coming back time after time, you will 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.
  • If you don’t feel you owe the money, you need to dispute the debt. In these instances it’s essential you do not let them in to seize items, as this may count against you in the dispute.
  • Otherwise, the aim should be to try to come to an agreement with them as to how they will be paid – as when they seize items they will usually get very little for them.
  • Bailiffs and debt collectors are bound by the Office of Fair Trading’s debt collection guidelines, which forbid harassment and threatening behaviour.
  • If a bailiff is overbearing or exceeds the terms of their remit, contact the Office of Fair Trading.
  • If you are physically threatened by a bailiff, report the incident to the police.
  • Where complaints are particularly serious, the 2014 rules introduced the right to go to court, where the judge can rule that the bailiff must return your items or pay you compensation.

Help getting out of debt

Are you struggling to pay off those debts? Would you like a debt-busting-buddy?bailiffs are at your door

Well we’d love to come round and give you a hand but there aren’t enough of us to go round! So we’ve put together a totally FREE set of helpful emails you can sign-up for that will give you hints, tips and encouragement to free yourself from the debt burden.

Just sign-up here now and turbo-charge your debt freedom day!

Find out more here

For more advice on how to resist bailiffs – check out Citizens Advice at and the Office of Fair Trading.


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Pauline Haigh
Pauline Haigh

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 »


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 »


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

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


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 »


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 .

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