Enforcement Officers, bailiffs and your rights

This page can help if you are faced with bailiff or enforcement agent issues. It includes advice on what to do when a bailiff visits and details what goods a bailiff can take. 

Enforcement officers, agents or bailiffs, are authorised by the courts to collect debts or outstanding payments on behalf of creditors who are owed money. If bailiffs are visiting your home remember that you still have rights.

What to do when a bailiff visits?

Three key things to remember if you have to deal with bailiffs:

  • Refuse to let them in. Talk to them through a window or over the phone.
  • Protect goods outside the home. Bailiffs can seize anything outside your home if they have clear access to it  – so keep it locked away.
  • Don’t sign any paperwork that a bailiff, enforcement officer or agent puts in front of you.

What can bailiffs legally do?

These are key facts on what bailiffs can and can’t do when collecting for council tax arrears, a County Court and High Court Writs.

Council tax bailiffs removing items – what they can’t take

If a bailiff gains entry, they can seize anything that belongs to you except for the following:

  • Tools that are used for business or self employment purposes. This could include taxis, computer equipment and smart phones if the value is below £1,350.
  • Household equipment for domestic use including furniture and clothing.
  • Goods rented, or under a hire purchase contract, as they do not belong to you.
  • Belongings of little resale value.
  • Items that unequivocally belong to a child.
  • Items which can be identified as being required to care for, or treatment of, disabled, elderly and seriously ill persons.

Can bailiffs take goods that are jointly owned?

Bailiffs can seize goods which are owned by you and other individuals. When they are sold off they must pay any co-owners their proportion of money from the sale. If it can be proven, it is not likely that the bailiff will remove goods if they are jointly owned. It is the responsibility of the owner to prove that any goods are jointly owned.

Controlled Goods Agreements

Bailiffs, should they need to, can remove goods straight away – in the case of motor vehicles they do not need entry to your home to do so. After a  bailiff has been given previous peaceful entry any items on your premises will be marked suitable for removal. You may be requested to sign a Controlled Goods Agreement. This will detail any items which the bailiff has seized.

To list items, any bailiff or enforcement officer must have access to your home. They are not permitted to list goods viewed through a window or by other means.

Once goods have been listed, the bailiff will be in control of the items but will leave them in your property allowing for everyday use until an agreement or conclusion is reached.

You must pay any instalments under the agreement, or the balance in full, otherwise the bailiff can return to collect and remove the goods.

Can I hide my possessions before a bailiff visits?

You can hide or sell your goods before an enforcement officer or bailiff seizes them. Once items have been seized or listed they cannot be removed, sold or intentionally damaged. Once ‘peaceful’ entry has been made the bailiff can use force to gain entry in to your property to recover seized items on their following visits. This is why it is recommended not to let a bailiff gain entry to your home.

Making a payment offer to a bailiff

It is prudent to offer reasonable and affordable payments to the bailiff. But remember not to let them in when doing so. Ensure that you get a receipt for any money paid.

Seizing goods of greater value than the debt

Items can be seized and then resold in order to raise cash for creditors. While not guaranteed a typical estimate for a sale price is around 10% of the ‘as new’ value. As a result, the bailiff will look to seize goods worth 10 times the ‘as new’ value of any outstanding arrears.

Alternatively you could get a better selling price for any non essential goods, if you sold items yourself, before any action begins with bailiffs.

County Court bailiff – the facts

The Consumer Credit Act says that a borrower can only be required to repay any unsecured debts at a rate which is realistically affordable after essential living expenses and circumstances have been considered. This applies with any level of debt, duration of a loan or any related interest rate.

When all the following apply a County Court bailiff can visit your home:

  • A default notice has been issued and not complied with.
  • The creditor has advised of their intention of Court action and a Claim/ Summons has been issued.
  • A County Court Claim issued and Judgment has been entered.
  • You are still not making repayments under the terms of the Judgement.

Only an appeal against a Judgment, granting of a Variation Order or commencing repayments will halt the debt or arrears being repaid by means outside of  your control.

Bailiffs and access to the home – what you should know

Peaceful entry
An individual must be granted seven days notice to allow a final chance to reach a settlement on the debts in question. County Court bailiffs will not arrive at your door without prior warning which needs to be done in writing. They cannot use force to gain entry to a property on their first visit.

What is classed as ‘Peaceful entry’?

Walking in through an unlocked door, without causing damage, is classed as ‘peaceful means’. Bailiffs can only use a door or regular means to enter a property. The bailiff may also ask to  ‘come in’ to discuss the matter, which is classed as peaceful entry. Subsequent visits, after gaining peaceful entry, can be subject to the use of force.

Forced entry
A bailiff cannot force his/her way past you for debts that are linked to unsecured lending. Once they are in your home, the bailiff can then use force to open inside doors or cupboards. If a bailiff has accessed your home by peaceful means before, they are entitled to force entry on following visits in respect of the same debt.

What happens if you continuously refuse entry to a bailiff?
If you continue to refuse the bailiff entry to your property on an ongoing basis, the Warrant will be returned to the Court. This means that the bailiffs are saying they have not been successful in getting payment. The creditor can then take alternative action to enforce the Judgment, such as an Attachment of Earnings Order. This is where deductions are made directly from a person’s pay. In some other cases creditors may try to obtain a Bankruptcy Petition.

What fees do bailiffs and enforcement agents charge? Enforcement agent fee structure

Such fees apply when a bailiff is recovering Council tax arrears and Magistrate’s Court Fines

£75 – the Enforcement Agent will charge this fee once your debt is given to them by the Council or a creditor. Where a Council is pursuing a debt they may have obtained a Liability Order. This fee is payable for each Liability Order.

£235 – (plus 7.5% of the value of the debt that is above £1,500). This is the Enforcement Stage fee which is charged by the Enforcement Agent (or bailiff) when they visit your premises for the first time.

£110 – (plus 7.5% of the value of the debt that is above £1,500). This fee is charged when an Enforcement Agent visits the premises to remove goods and to further make arrangements for their sale. In addition there may be additional fees charged for  removal and storage of goods as well as locksmith’s fees.

These fees are one off charges and not applied for each visit or letter sent.

High Court Enforcement

When a County Court Judgment (CCJ) is escalated to the High Court then you may be subject to proceedings and a visit from a High Court bailiff. High Court enforcement officers are normally paid money on the debts they manage to collect. So there is a potentially higher incentive to collect goods and payments for these bailiffs in comparison to others.

Once escalated the judgement is then classed as a High Court Writ. Only Judgements for debts above £600 which are not subject to the Consumer Credit Act 1974 can be transferred to a High Court Writ.

If the bailiff has not taken goods or payments they will deem the writ ‘unenforceable’. It is then referred back to the claimant to consider other enforcement options.

The guidelines for access and entry are the same as those for County Court bailiffs. The only differences that apply are the fees that are charged.

What fees do High Court enforcement officers charge?

Bailiff fee structure

£75 – Compliance Stage, notifying debtor of their instruction.

£190 – Plus 7.5% if the balance is over £1000, Enforcement Stage 1, chargeable upon first attendance at a property

£495 – Enforcement Stage 2, Chargeable upon the second visit to the property

£525 – Pus 7.5% if the balance is over £1000, Sale Stage, Sale of goods removed

These fees are one off charges and are not charged for each visit or letter. However interest is charged at 8% during the time the debt is being enforced by the High Court enforcement officer.