Bailiffs and debt collectors
If you owe someone money, they may try to collect the debt using a bailiff or debt collector. If these people contact or visit you, you need to know how to deal with them, and what your rights and obligations are.
When bailiffs may be used
Your creditor (the person you owe money to) can make a claim against you in the County Court. A County Court Judgment (CCJ) may be made stating you must repay the debt.
Your creditor can ask the court to issue a 'warrant of execution', which means that bailiffs may be called in to help recover the debt.
If you owe tax to HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC), or Council Tax to your local authority, they may send bailiffs to recover the debt.
Creditors may use a debt collection agency to ask you to pay off the debt.
Debt collectors aren't court officials and don't have the same powers as bailiffs. They can't enter your home or seize your possessions.
Creditors and debt collectors must follow OFT (Office of Fair Trading) debt collection guidance - pages 14 to 19 of the OFT leaflet 'Debt collection guidance' detail how debt collectors should behave.
If a collector harasses you, you should contact your local council's trading standards department. If they threaten you physically, contact the police.
How to avoid being visited by county court bailiffs
If your debt is a County Court Judgment and a warrant of execution has been issued, you can try to stop bailiffs visiting your home by filling in form N245 at your local County Court making an offer to repay the debt, for example by instalments - this should always be an offer you can afford to keep. If accepted, this will suspend the warrant so long as you keep up-to-date with the agreed payments.
What bailiffs can and can't do
If County Court bailiffs come to your home, you don't have to let them in.
They can't force their way in on their first visit, but they can enter through an open window, or an unlocked door. Forced entry includes pushing past you once you have opened the door to them or leaving their foot in the door to prevent you closing it. Such action would make the whole process illegal.
Bailiffs trying to recover money you owe to HMRC are allowed to break into your home, providing they have a magistrates' warrant.
Bailiffs recovering unpaid magistrates' court fines, however, do have the power to force entry.
Negotiating with bailiffs
You may negotiate with bailiffs to pay some or all of the debt there and then, so they leave without taking anything. If they accept any payment from you, you'll need to make sure you get a receipt. Bailiffs may be willing to take part in a reasonable negotiation (subject to legal and contractual constraints) - only make an agreement if you can afford to stick to it.
It's likely that the bailiff's fee and expenses for each extra visit will be added to the debt you owe - you may ask for details of these at any time, and fees can be disputed. If you have questions about a bailiff's fees and expenses it's best to get advice - see 'Where to get help and advice' below.
What can a bailiff take?
Bailiffs can't take essentials such as clothing, bedding, cookers, fridges, most furniture and the 'tools of your trade' (for example, a computer you use for work).
They can take non-essential items such as your television. They can take possessions outside your home (for example, your car or garden equipment), or in unlocked sheds and garages.
Rent and mortgage arrears - evictions
If you're behind with your rent or mortgage payments, your landlord or mortgage lender may get a County Court possession order to evict you. In this situation, the bailiffs are allowed to break into your home.
Where to get help and advice
Dealing with bailiffs is complicated; always seek free, independent help and advice if you have to deal with them.
National Debtline offers free advice for people with debt problems in England, Wales and Scotland.
0808 808 4000