If Bailiffs knock on your door…
Can I stop them coming in? Yes!
Most bailiffs have no more power to come into your home uninvited than any other unwelcome visitor. (See ‘Bailiff’s powers’). The only time a bailiff could have the right to use 'reasonable force' to get into your home would be if they are collecting unpaid criminal fines.
Bailiffs collecting all other debts can only come in if they can do so without using force. This is called "gaining peaceful entry" and includes:
Just because bailiffs can't get into your house, it doesn't mean they cannot get your belongings - they can seize a car parked in the street, as long as they are certain it belongs to you.
- 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 an unlocked door to come in.
It does not include:
- being asked in by a child;
- breaking windows, doors or locks; or
- pushing past people to get inside.
Even if bailiffs do manage to get in, they must leave if you ask them to. If they do not, they are breaking the law. If this happens, get advice (see 'Where to get help')
If you think bailiffs will be coming, 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. You might feel safer passing the letter to the bailiffs through the mailbox, rather than opening the door. If you are not in, or pretend you aren't, they may keep coming back until you open up - or the creditor may take other action to make you pay.
What if they do get in?
If bailiffs get in legally - if you let them in or they came in through an open window or door- they will usually make a list of your stuff and then ask you to sign a payment agreement, called a 'Walking Possession Agreement'. This lets you keep your belongings as long as you stick to the agreement. If you do not stick to your payment arrangement, the bailiff can return, force entry into your home, and take the stuff on the list.
They cannot take your basic household goods (such as your washing machine or fridge, clothing, or bedding) or things you use to make a living (such as tools, or a computer). They can't take things that belong to someone else but can normally take things you own jointly with someone else. The proceeds of the sale of jointly owned goods have to be divided between the owners, so only half can go to pay your debt.
If they got in illegally - if they forced their way in or were let in by a child, do not 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 respectfully ask them to leave. Do not be intimidated by them. If necessary, call the police. When they’ve gone make a complaint, or consider legal action – see 'How to complain about bailiffs'.
What to do
- 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 camcorder handy, you can take a film of the bailiff's visit. The only danger with this is that they will know you have a camcorder, which they may like to get their hands on, to help clear your debt! If you've borrowed the camcorder, 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's 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 about what action to take.
If the bailiffs don't get money from you to pay your debt, or don't get your belongings to sell to pay it, it doesn't mean that action to make you pay the debt will stop. There are other ways the company you owe money to 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 they've gone. Don't ignore the debt. Take advice now!