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Letting bailiffs into your home
Table of contents
- About letting bailiffs into your home
- Can the bailiffs force their way in
- When do you have to let them in
- Tips for keeping the bailiffs out
- What if the bailiffs force their way in
- Can bailiffs visit when they want
- What if you move things so that the bailiffs can’t get them
- Can bailiffs take a vehicle from outside
- What happens if you hide goods so the bailiffs don’t find them
- What happens if the bailiffs can’t get into your home
- Fees for taking goods
- Further help
Tell us more about your experiences to help us change the way bailiffs behave.
If you owe money, your creditor has various options to try and get their money back. Instructing the bailiffs to take your things away is one of these options.
A bailiff is someone whose job it is to take away things belonging to people who owe money. The things are then sold and the money is used to pay back the debts.
If the bailiffs haven’t got into your home before, the basic rule is that they can’t come in unless you or another adult lets them in. You can choose not to let them in. However the bailiffs can get in without your permission if they can do so without using force. For example, if they can get in through an unlocked door or open window. This is called peaceful entry (or sometimes peaceable entry).
Once they have gained peaceful entry through an outer entrance, they can break open the doors of other rooms or locked cupboards.
This page tells you about the bailiffs rights to come into your home, including:
- when you have to let the bailiffs in
- tips for stopping the bailiffs getting in
- rules about when bailiffs can visit
- what happens if you remove goods to stop the bailiffs getting them.
You generally don't have to let the bailiffs in to your home unless they've been in before. They're not usually allowed to force their way into your home and they can't get in:
- by breaking a window or door
- by pushing past you if you’ve opened the door but you make it clear you don’t want them to come in
- by knocking down fences or gates
- by opening a window which is not already partly open (even if it is unlocked).
There are some exceptions when bailiffs may be able to force their way into your home so make sure you check which rules apply to your situation.
Sometimes, bailiffs are allowed to break in to your home, even if you don’t give them permission. This is the case where:
- the bailiffs are collecting unpaid fines. They can force their way into your property whether or not they've been in to seize goods [link] before. However they must only do so if this would be reasonable. In practice, they only break in as a last resort
- the bailiffs have already gained peaceful entry before. They can force their way back into your home to take away goods that they've already seized if your trying to stop them from entering
- they are county court bailiffs, entering commercial property. But they can only do this if there’s no living accommodation attached. They need special permission of the court to break into commercial property even if there is no living accommodation attached
- the bailiffs are collecting income tax or VAT and they have permission from the court. This may be allowed if they have previously failed to gain peaceable entry.
Other buildings on your property
The bailiffs can force their way into other buildings on your property, as long as they aren’t attached to your home. For example, they can break into your garden shed or into your detached garage.
If you live in a flat
If you live in a flat, the bailiffs may have the right to break down your door once they’ve got in through the main entrance to the block. However the legal situation is not clear-cut, so if you live in a block of flats, get specialist advice if you know the bailiffs are coming.
You can get advice about dealing with the bailiffs from your local Citizens Advice Bureau. To search for your nearest CAB, including those that can give advice by e-mail, click on nearest CAB.
Here's some tips to help you to avoid letting the bailiffs in to take your goods:
- don't open your doors to them. Speak through the closed door or put on the chain if you have one
- don’t leave your windows open if you know bailiffs are due
- don’t let them in at all, even if they say it is just for a chat or to use the toilet
- alert your family and children so that they don't accidently open the door to them. Children don’t count as responsible people for the purpose of giving the bailiffs permission to enter your home. So if a child does let the bailiffs in, this doesn’t count as peaceful entry into your home.
Treat the bailiffs in a business-like way when they call. Politely tell them you're not going to let them in and that you'll try to sort out the debt in another way.
You mustn’t assault the bailiffs in order to prevent them getting into your home. This is a criminal offence.
Bailiffs are only allowed to force their way in.to your home in particular situations. If they force their way in when they shouldn't, the action you can take will depend on the circumstances. For example, you may be able to:
- complain to the person who instructed the bailiffs
- apply to the county court to have a private bailiff's certificate withdrawn
- report the matter to the police
- use self-defence, as long as you don’t use unreasonable force. You could be charged with a criminal offence if you use unreasonable force
- complain to the professional body responsible for the particular bailiffs
- take court action to get your goods back. This is called replevin.
You’ll usually need expert advice before you take any of these courses of action.
If the bailiffs force their way in, you should get further advice from an experienced adviser, for example, at a Citizens Advice Bureau. To search for your nearest CAB, including those that can give advice by e-mail, click on nearest CAB.
Most bailiffs have a legal right to come to your home at any time of day or night to try to take your things. However, in practice bailiffs shouldn’t come at the following times unless the court has specifically ordered it:
- before 6am
- after 9pm
- on Sundays
- on bank holidays
- Good Friday
- Christmas Day
- other religious festivals, as appropriate.
Other rules about when a bailiffs can come to your home apply to particular situations:
- county court bailiffs have a policy which says that they should come at a 'reasonable hour' and not on Sundays, Good Friday or Christmas Day
- High Court bailiffs need permission from the court if they want to take goods on Sundays
- for rent arrears, bailiffs can only come to your house between sunrise and sunset, and not on Sundays
- for income tax arrears, if the bailiffs have permission to force their way in, they can only do so during the day-time. HM Revenue and Customs has a policy not to take goods between sunset and sunrise, on Sundays or on public or bank holidays, whether or not they have permission from the court to force their way in.
If the bailiffs come to your home at a time when they shouldn’t, this could count as harassment. You should get further advice from an experienced adviser, for example, at a Citizens Advice Bureau. To search for your nearest CAB, including those that can give advice by e-mail, click on nearest CAB.
As long as the correct court orders are in place, the bailiffs can usually take your things from anywhere in England and Wales. So if you move your things to a friend’s house or to your business premises, the bailiffs can come there to get them.
The bailiffs generally can’t force their way into someone else's property to get things that belong to you. They need to get peaceful entry. An exception is the High Court bailiffs who are allowed to break into another person's property if your things have been taken there deliberately to avoid the bailiffs. But they must ask to be let in first, before they can force their way in.
For income tax arrears, it is HMRC policy not to enter the premises of a third party to take goods belonging to the person who owes the tax. For VAT, goods belonging to the person who owes VAT may be taken from anywhere.
In practice, it may be difficult for the bailiffs to know that you’ve removed goods somewhere else unless they’ve seen you do it. You don’t have to answer bailiffs' questions.
Also if the bailiffs do manage to gain entry somewhere else even without forcing their way in, and it turns out that there are no goods there, they’ll be acting against the law. The householder could sue them for trespass.
Generally, if you have a car or other vehicle outside your property, bailiffs can take it wherever it's parked. For example, they can take the car from your drive or from the road.
You can get further advice from an experienced adviser, for example, at a Citizens Advice Bureau. To search for your nearest CAB, including those that can give advice by e-mail, click on nearest CAB.
Cars on hire purchase
If you're still paying for a vehicle on hire purchase, the bailiffs shouldn't take it. You can prove the vehicle is not yours by showing the bailiff your hire purchase agreement.
For more information about who owns goods bought on hire purchase, see Hire purchase.
If the bailiffs clamp your vehicle
Bailiffs can clamp your car is some cases – for example if you don’t pay a fine and they have a clamping order.
Bailiffs might also try to clamp your vehicle if you don’t pay a Penalty Charge Notice – a parking charge issued by the council. It is questionable whether they have the right to do this, unless a warrant has been issued by the council.
It may be possible to take legal action against bailiffs if they do clamp your vehicle as in some cases it’s unlawful, but specialist advice should be sought.
Generally, it is not an offence for you to remove goods from your house or hide them before the bailiffs visit, unless the bailiffs are coming because of rent arrears. If you decide to do this, you should try and negotiate with the creditor or the bailiffs to pay back what you owe. For more information, see How to stop bailiff action.
Remember that once the bailiffs have gained access to your home, they are allowed to break open any locked cupboard or inside door. They can’t search you.
If, after searching, the bailiffs can’t find any goods to take, they become trespassers, and they should leave immediately. If the bailiffs don’t leave after a reasonable time, you could take legal action against them. Get expert advice if this happens to you.
If you are having problems getting your repayment plan agreed, you can get advice, for example from an experienced adviser, for example, at a Citizens Advice Bureau. To search for your nearest CAB, including those that can give advice by e-mail, click on nearest CAB.
If the bailiffs can't get into your property, they may:
- put a form called a statement of means through your letterbox. You’re asked to fill in the form with details of your income and expenditure and the bailiffs will return it to the court. The court will use the information to decide on a reasonable repayment schedule. You don’t have to fill in the form but if you don't it could affect you later if the court thinks you've been unwilling to pay
- try to argue that they have constructively seized goods that can be seen, for example through a window. You don’t have to take any notice of this because the High Court has ruled that in order to seize goods, bailiffs must actually get into the premises. They can’t seize good just by seeing them through the window
- try again. Guidance for county court bailiffs states that, even if there are no goods to take, the bailiffs should make further visits to try to get full or part payment. The bailiffs shouldn’t normally make more than three visits, and shouldn’t make any further visits following the first one if it is obvious that there’s no prospect of payment. The guidelines also recommend that the bailiffs visit on different days and at different times to increase their chances of finding you in.
- give up. Bailiffs will usually have a few goes at getting into the property. If they don't succeed, eventually they'll give up and refer your debt back to whoever asked them to collect it. The lender or court may take further action against you, for example, order you to come to court to explain why you haven't paid.
If you are ordered to come back to court, you can get help about what to do next from an adviser, for example, at a Citizens Advice Bureau. To search for your nearest CAB, including those that can give advice by e-mail, click on nearest CAB.
The bailiffs can charge fees for work they do trying to recover the money you owe. If the bailiffs can’t get into your home to take your things, you may still have to pay their fees. This can depend on which court is enforcing the debt. For example, High Court bailiffs can’t charge you if no goods are seized. The creditor will have to pay their fees. But if the county court has issued a court order to authorise the bailiffs (called a warrant of execution), you’ll have to pay the fee for this whether or not goods are seized. In council tax arrears cases, you’ll be charged for the first or only visit, and again for a second visit, even if no goods are taken.
HM Revenue and Customs(HMRC)
HMRC is the government department responsible for collecting income tax and VAT. You can get more information about what the HMRC does including how to contact your local tax office, from the HMRC website. Go to: www.hmrc.gov.uk.
Security Industry Authority (SIA)
The SIA is the organisation which regulates the security industry. You can get more information about what it does, including its code of practice for how security firms should behave, from the SIA website. Go to: www.SIA.org.uk.