Why is this important?
What happens if the bailiffs get in
This information applies to England and Wales
- About what happens if the bailiffs get into your home
- What things can the bailiffs take
- Things the bailiffs aren't allowed to take
- Can you give things away
- Proving who owns things
- How many things will they take
- Will the bailiffs take the things away there and then
- Who owns the goods
- What if I don’t have enough suitable goods
- Can you get goods back once they've been taken
- Further help
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.
If the bailiffs haven’t got into your home before, the basic rule is that they can’t come into your home unless you or another adult gives them permission. You can choose not to give them permission. However the bailiffs do have the right to get in without your permission if they can get in without using force. This is called peaceful entry.
If the bailiffs do get into your home, they must follow certain rules before they can actually take your things away. Some of the rules are very technical and you may need expert advice to challenge the bailiffs on these rules.
Bailiffs have to be authorised to take action against you. When they visit, it's a good idea to ask to see the documents that show they're authorised. The bailiffs can then:
- search your home
- decide which things they're going to take to sell. This is called seizing your things. There are rules about what things bailiffs can seize and what they must leave. There are also rules about how the bailiffs must behave.
- impound the goods. This is a technical term. It’s the point when the bailiffs actually place the goods in the control of the law.
This page tells you what happens when the bailiffs get in, including:
- what things the bailiffs can take
- what the bailiffs can't take
- what the bailiffs do with your things when they've got them.
The bailiffs can take:
- things that belong to you, except protected items
- sometimes, jointly owned things
- in some cases, cash or cheques for money owed to you.
In most cases, the bailiffs are only allowed to take things that belong to you. This includes things you own jointly with someone else.
Bailiffs can't take your partner's things. Sometimes bailiffs claim that anything owned by your partner is actually jointly owned and therefore they can take it from you. If this happens, get advice.
For council tax arrears, the bailiffs can only take goods (including jointly owned things) belonging to the person named on the liability order. If the liability order is just in your name, the bailiffs can’t take goods which are owned jointly with someone else.
The bailiffs aren't allowed to take:
- protected items
- children's belongings
- things still being paid for on hire purchase and conditional sale.
In most cases, the bailiffs don’t have the right to take the following protected items:
- essential household equipment
- furniture that you need for basic domestic needs
- tools, books, vehicles and other equipment which you need for your work.
Fixtures and fittings such as a built-in wardrobe can’t be taken.
For income tax and VAT, there are no protected goods but it's HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) policy to follow the same rules as above.
If the bailiffs seize protected goods, or goods belonging to someone else, you will need 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.
For rent arrears there are different rules and more protected items. It's unusual for bailiffs to be used for rent arrears.
If you have rent arrears and bailiffs are being used, you should get advice straight away from a specialist 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't take things that belong to your children.
The bailiffs can’t take goods on hire purchase or conditional sale agreements as these don’t belong to you until you’ve paid the last instalment. You'll need to show the bailiffs the credit agreements to prove that they belong to the hire purchase company.
For more information about who owns goods bought on hire purchase and conditional sale, see Hire purchase and conditional sale.
If you gave property away before the bailiffs got involved, it could be argued that they don’t have the right to take that property. However, once the bailiffs are involved you won't be able to give away your belongings. If you do, the item will be treated as if it still belonged to you and the bailiff can take it.
Make it clear to the bailiffs who the things belong to if they aren’t yours. You may have to show them proof of ownership, for example, a bill or a credit card receipt. Or the owner of the goods could swear a statement to say that the goods belong to them.
Bailiffs will usually go ahead and take goods and leave it to you to show that the goods don't belong to you or should not have been seized for example, because they're protected goods.
If you have a dispute with the bailiffs about ownership or you think they've seized goods they shouldn't, get advice from a specialist 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 should only take enough goods to raise the amount of money you owe.
However, in some cases bailiffs have taken goods which are much more valuable than the debt. For example, they’ve taken all the goods without individually valuing each item. If this happens to you, you may be able to make a complaint.
If county court bailiffs are involved, you can apply to the court for an order to instruct them to produce a list of goods they have taken and the estimated value of the goods.
If the bailiffs seize goods which even at second-hand value are worth more than your debt, get 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.
Once the bailiffs have identified the goods they want to take (seized the goods), they have to take a further step that is called impounding the goods. This means they put the goods in the control of the law and that you no longer have control over them.
There are three different ways of impounding goods, but the most usual one is called taking walking possession of the goods. This is where the bailiffs write down a list of the goods they have seized and ask you to sign a walking possession agreement.
When the walking possession agreement has been signed, the bailiffs will then have control over your goods. They can go back to your home and remove them at a later stage. They can even break into your home to take the goods.
If you refuse to sign the walking possession agreement, the bailiffs can immediately remove the goods they’ve seized. The third option is that they could leave a bailiff in your home to make sure you don’t remove the goods. This is called close possession but it is quite rare unless you have really valuable property at your home.
If you're asked to sign a walking possession agreement
Here are some things to watch out for if you're asked to sign a walking possession agreement:
- don't sign it if you're not the person named on the writ, warrant or liability order
- never sign a walking possession agreement if the bailiffs haven’t acted properly to seize goods. For example, if the things on the list are inside your house, the bailiffs must have actually been inside. They can't draw up a walking possession agreement by looking through your window
- you shouldn’t sign a walking possession agreement which has been posted through the letterbox
- before you sign the agreement, read the list of goods carefully to make sure nothing has been included that shouldn't be
- don’t sign the agreement if protected goods are included in the list.
If you are asked to sign a walking possession agreement and you think the bailiffs have not acted properly or there's something wrong with the list of goods, 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.
If you haven’t signed a walking possession agreement and the bailiffs don’t remove the goods immediately, it may be possible to argue that the bailiffs have abandoned the goods. This could mean they have given up and that they don’t have the right to return to remove your things.
This is a complicated argument and you must get further advice if you want to say this has happened.
If it appears that the bailiffs have abandoned the goods, 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.
If the bailiffs take the goods away
Goods that are taken away must be stored in a safe place until they are sold. Bailiffs have a duty to take care of goods and you could take them to court for negligence if they don’t take care of them. If you want to do this, get expert advice first.
If the bailiffs are negligent, 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.
Once bailiffs have seized the goods, they legally no longer belong to you. If the bailiffs leave things with you under a walking possession agreement , you may carry on using them. But you mustn't:
- cause any damage to the goods
- take them away
- sell them.
If you do, this is against the law and you could be taken to court for disobeying a court order. This is called contempt of court.
The second-hand value of goods can be very low so it may be that the bailiffs can’t take goods to the full value of the money you owe. If this is the case, they will take what goods they can and try to agree a repayment schedule with you to pay off the rest of the debt and charges.
If they can’t reach an agreement with you, they will report to the people instructing them about why they haven’t been able to take enough goods to pay the whole debt.
The bailiffs may see that your goods are not worth enough to cover the cost of them coming out with a van and removing and selling them. In this case they shouldn’t take anything at all and will make a report.
In both these cases, the bailiffs won’t take any further action and the creditor will have to think about other ways of getting their money back.
If the bailiffs did not follow the proper rules when they seized or impounded your goods, you may be able to take court action to get them back before they are sold. You’ll need expert advice before taking this course of action.
If the bailiffs did not follow the rules about seizing and impounding the goods, 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.
If you can afford it, you have the option of trying to buy back your goods at the auction.
- About bailiffs
- How to stop bailiff action
- Letting bailiffs into your home
- The sale of your goods
- Bailiffs’ charges
- Complaining about bailiffs
- Help with debt
- Council tax
- Rent arrears [ 40 KB] fact sheet.
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.