Debt advice

3. Bailiffs/enforcement agents

Bailiffs can be used by creditors to recover a variety of debts. This may include; Council Tax arrears, county court debts, parking penalty charges, magistrate court fines and tax debts.

From April 2014 the rules about how bailiffs can recover debts and the fees they can charge changed. All bailiffs are now known as enforcement agents. However the term bailiff is still commonly used so you may come across both the term bailiff and enforcement agent.

You will normally receive a letter advising that the creditor intends to use bailiff action. You may also be able to avoid bailiff action at this stage by contacting the creditor to try to agree a payment arrangement. Once a bailiff is employed you will automatically be charged a fee.

What will happen if a bailiff is employed to recover a debt:

  • You should receive notice that a bailiff is going to attend at your property
  • In most cases you do not have to let the bailiff in. The bailiff must first gain what is called peaceful entry to the property. This would be for example if you let them in or they are able to gain access through an open doorway. A bailiff should not however climb through an open window
  • If you own a car you will need to take steps to prevent the bailiff clamping or seizing the car and removing it
  • In the event that a bailiff does gain peaceful entry to your property they will probably make a controlled goods order. This gives the bailiff control of the good listed on the order. The goods will usually be left in your home and the bailiff will make an arrangement with you to pay the debt. There are rules about which goods a bailiff can and cannot take control of
  • Once a bailiff has got a controlled goods order (if the payment plan is not maintained), they may then use reasonable force to gain entry to remove the goods
  • At each stage of the bailiff recovery process there are set fees and the bailiff should not exceed these
  • In limited cases bailiffs can use force to enter your property even if they have not previously entered your property before. This includes where the debt is an unpaid magistrates’ court fine and some tax debts. In practice it is rare for this to happen

What you can do

  • prepare a budget plan to work out what you can afford to pay
  • contact the bailiff office by phone to ask if you can set up an instalment arrangement
  • seek free, independent advice

If you have a magistrates' court fine and you've been contacted by a bailiff you'll find useful information on the National Debtline website.

There is further information about bailiff action available on the National Debtline website.