The bailiff’s job is to enter a debtor’s premises and remove enough of their possessions to sell and repay the creditor what they are owed. The debtor has a number of legal rights. If the bailiff doesn’t respect these in the way they carry out their job, the removal of the debtor’s property and possessions becomes illegal.
There are rules about the days and time of day when bailiffs can do their job.
- In most cases, bailiffs are allowed to come round at any time of the day or night and on any day of the week except Sundays, Good Friday or Christmas Day. (The National Standards recommend that they only come between 6am and 9pm.)
- If the debt involves unpaid rent, bailiffs are not allowed to come round between sunset and sunrise, and not on a Sunday.
- If the debt involves unpaid VAT then bailiffs may only come round between 8.00am and 8.00pm. If you trade outside these times, then the bailiffs can start removing your possessions at any time and on any day when the business is trading.
In general, bailiffs may go anywhere within England and Wales where the debtor’s goods may be found. In practice, they will have either a business or home address, and this will be the only place they visit.
Most bailiffs do not have the right to force their way in to carry out their job. They may only enter peacefully and with the permission of the occupier. This rule applies in most cases, but there are a few exceptions.
The Inland Revenue can obtain permission to force initial entry, but this is rare.
Civil court bailiffs can force initial entry to non-domestic premises; but this is also rare.
Bailiffs who have authority to remove possessions to pay a fine imposed by the magistrate’s court have the power to force entry to the debtor’s home or business address. But this power should only be used where it is reasonable and necessary.
Any other use of force by a bailiff would make the removal illegal. So, a well-informed debtor may simply deny most bailiffs access and that will be the end of the matter.
Bailiffs are well aware of the limitations of their powers. They will try various tactics to get around a determined debtor. They may attempt to walk straight into a house as soon as a door is open. They may decide not to try to enter the house itself but to seize goods outside, such as a parked car on a driveway. They may enter through windows or skylights that are left open, and can use ladders to climb up to upstairs windows or over back walls. Once they have gained entry, a bailiff can break open internal doors including to cupboards or attics. If they have entered a shared house or with no single householder, the bailiff is entitled to use force to enter the parts of that house which may be used exclusively by the debtor, even if they are locked.
If bailiffs enter your home or business illegally, there are limited situations when you may be able to start court proceedings to recover your possessions and get compensation. You will need to get advice.
Updated December 2011
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