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Only take the actions below if it is safe to do so. You are the best judge of whether making any changes might lead to further harm. In an emergency, call 999.

Dealing with bailiffs (enforcement agents)

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:  

  • what bailiffs are legally allowed to do 
  • what your rights are if you are contacted by bailiffs. 
“The debt has been written off, but I still fear the postman coming. I always wonder if it’s a letter from the bank or the bailiffs.”

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.

What are bailiffs?
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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.


What do bailiffs do?
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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:  

  • the abuser’s behaviour has left you with debts that you cannot afford to repay 
  • the abuser has used your address for debts in their name. 

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.

What debts do bailiffs collect?
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Many creditors use bailiffs to collect debts owing to them. These include: 

  • landlords, to collect rent arrears for businesses such as shops and cafés  
  • HM Revenue & Customs, to collect unpaid tax and overpayments of tax credits  
  • Department for Work and Pensions, to collect benefit overpayment or benefits fraudulently claimed  
  • the Child Maintenance Service  
  • banks and building societies  
  • credit card providers  
  • catalogue payment companies  
  • contract providers, to collect mobile phone or internet contract debts
  • utility companies.  

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: 

  • Mortgage and rent payment arrears: A more likely route for the collection of mortgage arrears is for the provider to try to repossess the property. There is also a different process for collecting residential rent arrears.  
  • Gas and electricity arrears: A gas or electricity supplier is more likely to contact you to install a pre-payment meter.let you know that they may cut off your supply.
When can a lender use bailiffs to collect debts?
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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. 

Consumer credit debt 

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.

Council tax debt 

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.

Can bailiffs come to my home at any time?
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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. 

What should I do if I am contacted by bailiffs?
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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. 

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: 

  • the elderly  
  • people with a disability  
  • people with a serious illness 
  • people who have recently been bereaved  
  • single parents 
  • pregnant women  
  • unemployed people  
  • people who have difficulty in understanding, speaking or reading English.

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

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.

Can bailiffs force their way in?
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Bailiffs can only force their way in to collect:  

  • any criminal fine that you owe (for example, a magistrates’ court fine) 
  • tax debts owing to HMRC 
  • some types of business debts.  

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.

Can bailiffs take items in my property?
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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.  

Items outside of your home 

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.

What can bailiffs take?
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There are some items that bailiffs are not allowed to take to collect a debt that is in your name. This includes:  

  • things that are considered essential for your basic needs  
  • items that you need for work 
  • items that belong to other people. 

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.   

Items belonging to other people 

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.

Complaining about bailiffs

 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. 

More information 

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

Further support 

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.