What you should know if you’re contacted by enforcement agents (‘bailiffs’)

Many people find the word ‘bailiff’ very frightening, and it can be stressful and upsetting to be contacted by bailiffs. We spoke to Roni Marsh, our Money Advice Team Leader, to explain some basic information about enforcement agents and what they can and can’t do.

This article is not relevant for evictions or bailiffs who disconnect gas and electricity. This article deals only with debt collection.

What are enforcement agents?

An ‘enforcement agent’ is the legal term for what is more commonly known as a ‘bailiff’. Bailiffs are engaged by a creditor. Their aim is to take your property in order to later sell this property at an auction and clear your debt, but items are often sold at much less than they are worth. You can buy back this property at auction. The law around bailiffs can be both complicated and simple. But the most important thing to know is your rights about letting bailiffs into your property.

Can bailiffs force entry to my property?

For most debts, no. But there are a few where they can. Firstly, bailiffs can only enter a property through a door or other usual means of entry. Secondly, they can only force entry:

  • in order to enforce magistrate court fines – these fines come about through doing something illegal (e.g. Not having a TV licence)
  • for business premises
  • because they have a warrant issued by the court – this is called a ‘Break Open Warrant’
  • if they have been to the property before, listed goods under a controlled goods agreement, and you have then defaulted on the payment agreement – however, they need to give two days’ notice before they force entry

For most debts (like council tax, parking fines, and county court judgements) bailiffs cannot force entry. Therefore, you should keep your door locked and not let strangers into your home.

Can bailiffs take my car when they are collecting a debt?

Yes, they can, but they should not take it immediately. They will normally put a clamp on it first, and it must stay where it’s clamped for at least two hours before they can tow it away. This gives time for the person in debt to come to a repayment agreement. There are exceptions and different rules for different situations:

  • There are extra rules for cars displaying a blue badge, and bailiffs should not take cars in these situations
  • Cars of excessive value – if your car is worth a lot more than your debt, then bailiffs should not take your car to clear that debt
  • Cars which are a tool for your trade – vehicles which are valued at less than £1350 are exempt from debt collection if they are part of your work (like a taxi)
  • Cars which you do not own but are a registered keeper of – bailiffs can only take cars which are owned by the person who owes the debt so if you are the registered keeper but not the owner of car, then you need to be able to provide evidence to the bailiffs to show that they cannot collect the car

If the car you are using does not belong to you, but is instead under a finance agreement, then bailiffs cannot take the car. You will need to prove to bailiffs that it doesn’t belong to you.

What if I am/have a vulnerable person in my home?

Bailiffs have guidance they must work under, which can be found here.

If you are a vulnerable person (because of your health or other reasons) or have vulnerable persons in your household, then bailiffs should give you a chance to get advice before they try to enforce a debt by taking any of your property. However, you have to tell them about any vulnerable people because it is likely that they will not know about your circumstances. For example, if Mrs Jones lives with her elderly mother who has dementia, and would not understand what was happening because of her status as a vulnerable person, Mrs Jones could contact the bailiffs and tell them that there is a vulnerable person in the home. This would give her time to then get advice from somewhere like the Law Centre.

If you have been contacted by enforcement agents (‘bailiffs’) or you are worried about enforcement agents, please contact the Law Centre by calling 020 8667 9252 or filling in our contact form, and a member of team will be in touch.