If bailiffs knock on your door…
You don’t have to open the door and let them in. Most bailiffs have no more power to come into your home uninvited than any other unwelcome visitor. See What bailiffs can and can’t do.
So bailiffs can only come in if they can do so without using force. This is called ’gaining peaceful entry’ and includes:
- being invited in by a responsible adult;
- climbing through a window that is open;
- jumping over a fence to get to your back door; or
- opening and coming in through an unlocked door
It does not include:
- being asked in by a child;
- breaking windows, doors or locks; or
- pushing past people to get inside.
If the bailiffs manage to get in, they must leave if you ask them to unless they have started to identify and list those things belonging to you that they want to sell. In this case they can complete the process before they go. If you have only had a conversation with the bailiff about the debt and how to repay it, then the ‘levy’ has not begun. The bailiffs must leave if you ask them to. If they refuse, get advice (see More help and Advice).
Just because bailiffs can't get into your house, it doesn't mean they cannot get your belongings. They can take a car parked in the street, as long as they are certain it belongs to you.
If you think bailiffs are going to come round, ask an advice agency to give you a letter you can show the bailiffs so they know you are getting expert advice. The letter may say that the agency has advised you not to let the bailiffs in. If you have not already let the bailiffs in, pass the letter to the bailiffs through the letterbox. Do not open the door. If you are not in, or pretend you aren't, they may keep coming back until you open up - or the creditor you owe may take other action to make you pay.
What if they do get in?
If bailiffs get in legally, for example if you let them in or they came in through an open window or door, they will usually make a list of your belongings and then ask you to sign a document called a 'Walking Possession Agreement'. This lets you keep your belongings as long as you stick to the arrangement for repaying the debt. If you do not stick to it, the bailiff can return, force entry into your home, and take the stuff on the list.
If bailiffs get in illegally, for example if they forced their way in or were let in by a child, don’t sign a Walking Possession Agreement or let them take your possessions. Explain to them that you know your rights, that they have broken the law and ask them to leave, politely. Don’t be intimidated by them. If necessary, call the police. When they have gone make a complaint, or consider legal action – see How to complain about bailiffs.
- Don't get too alarmed! Not all bailiffs will give you a hard time, or act in a threatening way. Many will be fair and polite to you. Unfortunately, you do need to guard against the bad, as you never know which type will turn up at your door.
- If you can, make sure there is someone else at your home as a witness when the bailiffs come. This may help any bad bailiffs behave properly. Or, if you have a mobile phone handy, you can take a film of the bailiff's visit. The only danger with this is that they will know you have a mobile, which they may like to get their hands on, to help clear your debt! If you have borrowed the phone, make this clear - some proof that it belongs to someone else will help.
- Tell everyone at your home that bailiffs might be calling, and that they should check who is there before answering a knock at the door. Lock windows and doors to stop bailiffs getting in.
- When they come, be polite but firm. Make it clear that you know your rights, you won't be intimidated, and you are not going to let them in. If they need to show you ID, they can pass it through the letter box.
- It is generally sensible to come to an arrangement with the bailiff to pay, unless you don't agree that the debt is yours. But it is advisable to get advice before agreeing to anything, unless you are sure you want to proceed.
- Call the police if the bailiffs are threatening or very aggressive, or have forced entry.
- If you think bailiffs have broken the rules or treated you badly when they visited you, consult an advice agency. See How to complain about bailiffs for more information about what action you can take.
If the bailiffs don't get money from you to pay your debt, or your belongings to sell, it doesn't mean that action to make you pay the debt will stop. There are other ways the creditor can make you pay up. They may be able to get deductions from your wages if you are working, or deductions from your benefits. Exactly what they can do depends on the type of debt you owe. In council tax cases, you can go to prison if you simply refuse to pay. So, it is important that you keep trying to arrange a payment schedule, even after the bailiffs have gone. Don't ignore the debt. Get advice now!