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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.
Bailiffs are allowed to charge you fees for this work.
Bailiffs’ charges can seriously increase the amount you owe. Sometimes bailiffs add charges that they shouldn't so it's worth checking what you've been charged and querying anything you're not sure about.
This page gives you basic information about:
Different types of bailiffs have different rules about what they can charge. In most cases the rules are set down in law. In general you may be charged for any of the following:
- visits to your home. Check whether there's a limit on how many visits can be charged for your type of debt
- taking legal control over your goods
- transport to remove the goods. Council tax bailiffs can charge for bringing a van even if they didn't actually remove the goods
- storage of the goods after they've been removed
- valuation of the goods, if you ask for this
- advertising the sale
- costs of the sale.
Not all bailiffs can make all of these charges. You can find out which charges are allowed for different types of debts from an adviser.
You can get help to check bailiffs charges are correct and to query them from a Citizens Advice Bureau.
Most of the fees and charges are set out in the law. Some charges will depend on the value of the debt or the amount of money raised at the sale. In some cases, VAT is charged on top of the fee.
The bailiffs should tell you in writing how much you're being charged and what for. Check the details carefully to make sure you understand the charges. Question anything you're not sure about. Watch out for charges for:
- letters you haven't received
- repeated visits to your home
- vehicle costs when nothing has been removed
- multiple charges for the same thing.
For details of the exact fees charged by different bailiffs, you should see 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 pay off your debt in full to the creditor before the bailiffs are instructed, you don’t have to pay bailiff’s charges.
Once bailiffs have been asked to act, you'll usually have to pay their charges whether or not they can take your goods.
If you pay off the debt to the creditor but not the bailiffs’ charges that you owe, the bailiffs can’t take goods from you just to recover their own costs. They'll have to take action against you themselves to get the money back.
Bailiffs’ charges are complicated and it's not always easy to see if you are being charged correctly. But if you think you're being charged more than you should be for bailiffs fees or they're charging for things they shouldn't, you can complain and sometimes take other action.
You should question bailiffs charges where:
- the charges are higher than the debt itself
- bailiffs charge a flat rate for transport of goods however near or far away you live
- bailiffs charge for other work that isn’t set out by law, for example, administration charges for drawing up a repayment schedule
- bailiffs charge for putting a walking possession agreement through your door without them ever being inside your property.
Making a complaint
Bailiffs act under instructions from someone else, such as a court, or the local authority for council tax. If you feel you have been overcharged, make a complaint to whoever the bailiffs are acting for. Ask them to instruct the bailiffs to give you back the amount they've overcharged. The courts or the local authority should make sure that the bailiffs they instruct are responsible and don’t overcharge.
If the bailiffs are acting on behalf of a local authority and they don't sort out the problem, you may be able to complain to the Local Government Ombudsman in England, or the Public Services Ombudsman for Wales.
You could also complain to the bailiff’s professional body.
Going to court
If a dispute about charges can’t be sorted out by negotiation, you might be able to apply to court for the bill to be checked (assessed). If you're thinking of doing this:
- you have to make the application within three months of the bill being received
- you'll have to pay a fee for the application to court. This can be waived or reduced if you're in financial hardship
- you risk having to pay more if the bill isn’t reduced by a certain amount or if the court thinks that you have acted unreasonably in disputing the bill.
Take legal advice before applying for assessment of a bailiff's bill, to make sure you have a good case. Otherwise it may end up costing you more.
Before deciding to go to court, make sure you 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.
- Rent arrears [ 40 KB] fact sheet.