The information on this page relates to England and Wales.
If you are contacted by bailiffs to collect debts, this can be stressful and frightening, especially as a survivor of abuse. You may feel anxious and unsure about what you should do.
This information will help you understand:
If you are contacted by bailiffs or are worried that they may contact you, it is important to speak to a qualified debt advisor if it is safe for you to do so. They can support you to deal with bailiffs.
A bailiff (also known as an enforcement agent) is someone who has legal power to collect certain debts on behalf of a lender. A lender (or creditor) can sometimes use bailiffs if they haven’t been able to collect your debt themselves.
Bailiffs contact people or visit them at home to collect debts that are owing in their name. This could be unpaid bills or council tax, for example.
You may be concerned that bailiffs may contact you if:
A debt is always held by a person, not an address, so you cannot be held liable for debts that are not in your name, even if your address has been used.
Bailiffs will usually try to make a payment agreement with you, where you can pay the debt in instalments. If an arrangement cannot be reached, they may come to your home and take items that can be sold to pay off the debts.
Most lenders and bailiffs will have a policy for supporting vulnerable customers, which may include those who have experienced domestic abuse. If you are a vulnerable customer (see below), this will restrict the contact that bailiffs can have with you.
Many creditors use bailiffs to collect debts owing to them. These include:
The High Court, County Court and magistrates’ courts acting on behalf of local authorities can also use bailiffs to collect council tax debt and unpaid road traffic penalties.
Some types of debt are less likely to be collected by bailiffs:
A lender can only use bailiffs to collect debts owing to them when all other methods of debt collection have been tried. They need to apply to a court for permission to use bailiffs.
If you have consumer credit debt (including a personal loan, credit card or mobile phone contract), a lender can only use bailiffs to collect debt after they have applied to a court for a County Court Judgment (CCJ) against you. A County Court Judgment against you means that the outstanding debt is formally registered with the court.
The council can only use bailiffs to collect unpaid council tax when a magistrates’ court has issued them with a liability order. This is a legal demand for payment.
Bailiffs should give you seven clear days’ notice that they are due to visit you. This is often known as an ‘enforcement notice’ and is usually a letter. ‘Clear days’ do not include Sundays or bank holidays.
They can only usually visit your home between 6am and 9pm.
If you receive an enforcement notice, it is important not to ignore it. Contact a qualified debt advisor and seek their support to respond to the notice.
It is important to check if the enforcement notice is in your name.
A qualified debt advisor can support you to respond and explain your circumstances, including that you have experienced economic abuse. It may be possible to apply to the court to stop the bailiffs. While you apply to the court, the bailiffs can still try to collect the debt.
The court may consider you to be a ‘vulnerable customer’. They may give you more time to pay or seek debt advice, put your case on hold, or even pass it back to the creditor to deal with. They may also have a vulnerable customer team that you can speak to.
Bailiffs should not enter your home if the only person there is someone they consider to be vulnerable.
There is no clear definition of what ‘vulnerable’ means, but it could include:
Many organisations recognise ‘vulnerable customers’ to include those who have experienced domestic abuse.
StepChange has more information on how you can speak to bailiffs if you’re in a vulnerable situation.
If the enforcement notice is in someone else’s name, such as the abuser, bailiffs cannot take action against you. However, they may be able to take any of the abuser’s possessions that remain at your property. It can be difficult to prove who owns what in the property, so it is best not to let bailiffs into your home.
If it is not your debt, you or your debt advisor should contact the bailiffs to tell them.
Citizens Advice has more information on stopping bailiffs if they are collecting a debt that is not in your name.
Bailiffs can only force their way in to collect:
In all other cases, bailiffs cannot force entry to your property on their first visit.
If the bailiffs are collecting consumer credit debt or council tax debt and have not visited before, you do not have to let them in to your property. Politely but firmly refuse to let the bailiffs in, without opening the door to them.
You can limit contact to phone conversations or a conversation at the doorstep without them entering your property. You can see their identification at the doorstep and pass any documents through the letterbox.
StepChange has more information on the rights and powers that bailiffs have. They also have tips for dealing with bailiffs.
If bailiffs enter your property, their legal powers change and you will usually have to enter into a ‘control of goods agreement’. This lists items you own that they can sell to clear the debt. It will outline a repayment plan so you can keep the items as long as you make the repayments. If you do not make the repayments, the bailiffs can return to your property and take the items to be sold.
Before taking any items, they need to give you two clear days’ notice.
Bailiffs can take items that are outside your home, for example, a vehicle parked on your driveway or on the road. They are not allowed to do this if you have a Blue Badge, if it is a mobility car or you need it for work. If you are worried that bailiffs may arrive at your home, you may wish to move your vehicle to a safe place. This may be a locked garage or a private driveway of a friend or neighbour.
Citizens Advice has more information on stopping bailiffs taking your vehicle.
There are some items that bailiffs are not allowed to take to collect a debt that is in your name. This includes:
Citizens Advice has more information on the items that bailiffs can take. This information includes what to do if they take things that they shouldn’t.
Bailiffs cannot take items that belong to other people to collect a debt that is in your name. However, you may be concerned that they may try to do so, for example that they may try to take the abuser’s items for your debt. You may be worried that you will not be able to prove that the items are not yours. This may leave you feeling very unsafe. You may wish to seek support from a domestic abuse organisation or get specialist debt advice.
Bailiffs have legal rights, but so do you. You can make a complaint about them if they mistreat you, do not take into account your vulnerability, or break the rules.
You can also complain to an Ombudsman Service about the fact that your lender used bailiffs who broke the rules or mistreated you.
Citizens Advice has more information on how to make a complaint about bailiffs.
Citizens Advice has more information about dealing with bailiffs.
If an abuser’s actions have forced you into debt, we have more information for you.
Last updated March 2023
If you are experiencing economic abuse, you are not alone. We have more information that can support you to take steps towards safety and begin to regain control of your finances.
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