Can bailiffs enter your house when you are not there?

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Summary:

This article will outline bailiff action in more detail, including whether they can force entry into your house or enter your house when you’re not there.

If you’re facing enforcement action, you may be worried about whether bailiffs can enter your house when you’re not there and remove your belongings to repay the debt.

However, despite their tough reputation, there are strict rules bailiffs must follow when they visit you and they are not allowed to simply break into your home and seize your belongings at will.

What do bailiffs do?

Bailiffs (officially called enforcement agents) are legal officers who are authorised by the court to collect debts on behalf of creditors (the people or companies you owe money to).

They can do this by asking for immediate payment of the debt or by seizing your belongings and selling them at auction to raise the money needed to repay the debt.

The types of debt bailiffs typically collect include council tax arrears, parking fines, income tax, personal loans, credit cards, and court fines. However, a bailiff or enforcement agent can also visit your home to serve court documents, give notices and summons, and carry out property evictions.

There are different types of bailiffs including a County Court bailiff, High Court enforcement officer, civilian enforcement officer, certificated enforcement agent, and family court bailiff. The type of bailiff that visits you depends on the type of debt you owe.

Do bailiffs have to give notice of their visit?

If you’re worried about the thought of bailiffs visiting you out of the blue, it’s important to note that they must send you an ‘enforcement notice’ or ‘notice of enforcement’ at least seven days before they visit.

This is a letter from the enforcement agent or bailiff company that explains the reason for the visit and what you can do to avoid enforcement action altogether (e.g. repay the debt or agree on a repayment plan with the creditor).

The key to avoiding further legal action and fees is to cooperate with the bailiffs at the earliest opportunity and, if possible, within the seven-day notice period. By repaying the debt or agreeing to repay the debt in instalments, you can prevent bailiffs from visiting.

What is a controlled goods agreement?

When a bailiff visits you, they will usually start by asking if you can repay the debt in full and making a note of all of the things in your house that they believe would fetch a good price at auction (e.g. electronics, jewellery, and vehicles).

Generally, it’s best to repay the debt in full if you can to put a stop to further action and allow you to move on from the debt once and for all. Even if you can only afford to pay a small portion, offering any form of payment is better than nothing at all.

However, if you’re not in a position to repay the debt in full, they will try and negotiate a ‘controlled goods agreement’ with you. This is when you agree to make regular payments towards the debt in exchange for being able to keep your belongings.

For a controlled goods agreement to be valid, it must be signed by both you and the bailiff. By making agreements in full and on time as agreed, the bailiff won’t be able to take control of goods and your belongings will be protected.

Can bailiffs force entry into your house?

One of the most common concerns among those facing enforcement action is whether bailiffs can legally force entry into their homes. However, while this is a possibility, reasonable force is only allowed under strict circumstances.

We’ve outlined the only situations in which bailiffs are allowed to force entry into your home below:

If you have unpaid criminal fines

If bailiffs are chasing a Magistrates Court fine, bailiffs are legally allowed to force entry into your home in a last-ditch attempt to collect payment of the debt.

If they have gained peaceful entry on a previous visit

If bailiffs have been in your home before by means of peaceable entry, they can force entry on their next visit if you fail to cooperate or prevent them from entering.

If you owe income tax or VAT

If you owe tax debts to HMRC, bailiffs can force entry into your home if they have permission from the court to do so.

If you broke a controlled goods agreement

If you made a controlled goods agreement and failed to stick to the terms and conditions, bailiffs can return and force entry into your home to seize the goods listed in the agreement.

Can bailiffs visit your house whenever they choose?

If you’re worried about bailiffs turning up at your door whenever they choose, it may put your mind at ease to know that they can only visit between the hours of 6am and 9pm.

The only situations in which they can visit outside of these hours are:

  • If they have a court order giving them permission
  • If your belongings are held at a business premises that operates outside the hours of 6am to 9pm
  • If they are in the process of seizing your belongings and have not finished by 9pm

Can bailiffs enter your house when you are not there?

If you’re expecting enforcement action, you may be nervous about leaving your home in case bailiffs make their way inside when you’re not there.

However, bailiffs can only enter if you make it easy for them to do so or, in other words, if you leave a door or window unlocked or someone else lets them in. Even leaving a key in the lock could permit them to enter.

They can’t enter when you’re not there by asking your landlord for a key, using a key they found under a doormat, or being asked in by a child or vulnerable person. These situations are classed as unlawful entry.

Before leaving your home, take the time to ensure all doors and windows are securely locked and instruct other people living in the property not to let bailiffs inside under any circumstances.

What items are bailiffs not allowed to take?

There are rules surrounding the items bailiffs can and can’t take and, despite what you may have heard, they can’t remove whatever belongings they like.

Here is a guide to the items bailiffs are not allowed to seize from your house:

  • White goods (e.g. microwaves, cookers, washing machines, fridges and refrigerators)
  • Goods owned outright by someone else (they can take items that are jointly owned)
  • Goods purchased through a hire purchase agreement that are not fully paid off
  • Furniture that would leave anyone in the household short (e.g. beds, tables, chairs)
  • Equipment needed for work or study up to a value of £1,350

Most bailiffs will start by looking for high-value items that are likely to fetch a good price at auction, including vehicles, jewellery, and electronics.

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Do you have to let bailiffs into your home?

You don’t have to let bailiffs into your home and can ask to talk to them through a door or window if you prefer.

Some bailiffs will lie and say the law states that you have to let them in or you must repay the debt in full on the doorstep, but this isn’t true. They will usually respect your wishes and leave peacefully if you ask them to but they will return at a later date if you don’t arrange payment of the debt during their first visit.

Additionally, the longer enforcement action is drawn out, the more fees are usually added. Most bailiffs charge a fixed fee of £235 +7.5% of the debt (over £1,500) for their first visit but some bailiffs will charge a fee each time they have to write to you or sell your goods at auction, all of which will be added to your existing debt balance.

For example, if you start with £500 of debt but refuse to cooperate with bailiffs on their first visit and they seize your belongings as a result, up to £420 in extra fees could be added, almost doubling your debt and bringing the amount you owe up to £920.

Therefore, if you’re worried about paying your existing debt balance, it’s wise to try to negotiate with bailiffs and arrange a repayment plan before extra fees are added.

What can you do if a bailiff is at your house looking for someone else?

If a bailiff is at your house looking for payment of a debt that isn’t yours, you have several options. This may sound like a stressful experience, but it’s more common than you might think.

This usually happens when bailiffs try to recover a debt by visiting the last-known address of the debtor and the debtor has failed to record their new address anywhere.

However, as long as you can prove that the debtor no longer lives at the property and you’re not the debtor in question (e.g. by showing your tenancy agreement and proof of identity), they will usually leave you alone.

For example, if the debt is for an unpaid logbook loan, you may have to provide documentation showing that the car parked outside is yours and that you are up to date with your payments.

How should bailiffs treat me if I’m vulnerable?

If you’re worried about how bailiffs may treat you as a vulnerable person, it’s important to familiarise yourself with your rights ahead of any scheduled enforcement action.

First, you must contact the bailiffs as soon as possible by calling the number on the enforcement notice and explain that you’re vulnerable – a carer, friend, or family member can also do this for you.

When you talk to bailiffs, you must make sure you let them know how their visit could make your situation worse (e.g. if it would negatively affect your mental health or aggravate a heart condition). It may also be useful to keep a note of the conversation in case you need to complain later.

Bailiffs should also never come into your home if you’re a vulnerable person and you’re the only person home at the time. When this happens, you must explain through a door or a window that you’re vulnerable and ask them to come back another time when someone else will be there.

The sooner you contact the bailiffs, the sooner you can stop them from visiting and adding fees to your existing balance.

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Conclusion

If you’re expecting a visit from bailiffs, it’s normal to worry about whether enforcement agents could enter your home when you’re not there to seize your belongings. However, bailiffs can only enter if someone lets them in or you leave a door or window unlocked.

Bailiffs also shouldn’t enter your home when you’re not there if the only person there is vulnerable or a child. If bailiffs break any of these rules, you have the right to complain.

Knowing what bailiffs can and can’t do can help you prepare for enforcement action and recognise when you’re being treated unfairly or being harassed into handing over payment.

Key Takeaways

There are different types of bailiffs, from County Court bailiffs to High Court enforcement officers
Bailiffs are not allowed to take anything that you need to maintain a reasonable standard of living
Bailiffs can enter your home when you're not there if you leave a door or window unlocked or someone lets them in
If bailiffs visit your home for someone else, you must show them proof that the person doesn't live there anymore
Bailiffs are not permitted to enter your home if you're vulnerable and you're the only person there
Maxine McCreadie

Maxine McCreadie

Author/Debt Expert

Maxine McCreadie, prominent personal finance writer featured in Vogue and Yahoo News, delivers practical guidance, simplifying money management and championing financial literacy.

How we reviewed this article:

HISTORY

Our debt experts continually monitor the personal finance and debt industry, and we update our articles when new information becomes available.

Current Version

June 18 2024

Written by
Maxine McCreadie

Edited by
Ben McCormack

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