Can bailiffs refuse a payment plan?

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Yes, bailiffs can refuse a payment plan. Although many bailiffs may be willing to accept a payment plan if it seems reasonable and affordable, they are not obligated to agree to one. The decision to accept a payment plan ultimately lies with the bailiff or the creditor they represent.

This guide will address some of the most common questions about bailiffs, from what to do if your payment plan is rejected to what to do if you can no longer afford your payment plan.

If you’re worried about debt, you’re probably also worried about bailiffs turning up at your door and removing some of your belongings to repay the debt.

However, most bailiffs will be happy to let you repay the debt with a payment plan so you can chip away at your balance in smaller, more manageable instalments.

What do bailiffs do?

Before delving into whether a bailiff (officially known as an enforcement agent) can refuse a payment plan, it’s important to understand what else bailiffs can and can’t do.

Put simply, bailiffs are authorised by the court to carry out a wide variety of duties related to the debt collection process. They are primarily hired to collect debts and serve court documents on behalf of creditors (the people you owe money to) but can also carry out property evictions.

They will usually ask you to repay the debt in full but, if that’s not an option, they will make a list of high-value goods that they can sell at auction to recover the debt – this is called a ‘controlled goods agreement’ or ‘taking control of goods’.

However, bailiffs are not exempt from the law and there are rules they must stick to when enforcing a debt. For example, they must give you at least seven days’ notice before they visit you, they can’t remove items needed to maintain a basic standard of living, and they can only visit you between the hours of 6am and 9pm.

Are there different types of bailiffs?

There are several different types of bailiffs, each with their own duties and powers. The type of bailiff that visits you will depend on the type of debt you owe.

Here is a brief guide to the different types of bailiffs that can visit you:

County Court bailiff

County Court bailiffs are bailiffs who work on behalf of the County Court of England and Wales. They enforce claims up to the value of £5,000, such as council tax arrears, parking fines, and child maintenance arrears, but are primarily hired to chase individuals who have an unpaid County Court Judgement (CCJ).

High Court enforcement officer

High Court enforcement officers are bailiffs who work on behalf of the High Court of England and Wales. They are responsible for enforcing non-regulated debts, such as utility arrears, business debt, tribunal awards, and CCJs that have been transferred to the High Court.

Civilian enforcement officers

Civilian enforcement officers (also known as approved enforcement agents) are bailiffs hired to enforce Magistrates’ Court fines, warrants for arrests, road traffic debts, and commercial rent arrears. They also have the power to seize and sell goods to recover payment of a debt.

Are bailiffs and debt collectors the same?

There are several similarities between bailiffs and debt collectors, but it’s important to note that they are not the same.

The biggest difference between debt collectors and bailiffs is that a debt collector usually works for a debt collection agency and has no special legal powers to collect a debt while a bailiff is hired by the court and has greater legal authority to recover the money owed.

Similarly, bailiffs tend to collect debts of higher legal importance that require a court hearing, such as criminal fines, child maintenance arrears, tax arrears, HMRC debts, and unpaid County Court Judgments (CCJs), while debt collectors mainly collect commercial debts, such as loans, credit cards, and overdrafts.

Can bailiffs refuse a payment plan?

Most bailiffs will accept an offer of a repayment plan if it means they will receive a portion of the debt as opposed to nothing at all. However, they are not obliged to accept any offer of payment and are within their right to refuse it if they think it’s unacceptable.

Some bailiffs may even refuse to negotiate with you at all and demand full payment of the debt, but this is rare and they should always give you a chance to pay what you can towards the debt in weekly or monthly payments.

Usually, a bailiff will work with you to create a suitable payment plan that all parties – including your creditors – can agree on and that lets you repay the debt over a reasonable period.

Some of the most common reasons for refusing a payment plan are if the bailiff doesn’t believe you can afford the proposed payments or if they have a strong reason to believe that your creditor won’t accept the amount suggested.

What should I do if my payment plan is refused?

If you’ve found yourself in a position where a bailiff has refused your payment plan, don’t worry. There are steps you can take to address the problem and decide what your next steps should be.

Even if your payment plan is refused, you should still try to make an offer of payment. This will show bailiffs that you are serious about wanting to improve your financial situation and are in a position to make small payments towards the debt.

We’ve outlined the steps you should follow if your payment plan is refused below:

Review their decision

Firstly, you must review the bailiff’s decision and understand their reasoning for refusing your payment plan.

This stage is crucial to knowing what you should do next. For example, if the suggested amount is too low, your next step should be to negotiate with the bailiff until you come to a mutual agreement.

Challenge the judgement

If you believe your payment plan has been unfairly rejected or key aspects of your circumstances were overlooked, you have the right to challenge the judgment.

When you do this, you must provide evidence of your financial situation and clearly explain why the proposed payment plan should have been accepted.

Seek expert advice

Whether you agree with the bailiff’s decision or not, it can be useful to seek expert advice from a financial adviser or legal professional to help you know what your next steps should be.

They will provide insights tailored to your individual circumstances and help you draft a response if you want to challenge the refusal.

How can I ensure my payment plan is accepted?

The key to successfully negotiating a payment plan with bailiffs is to be as reasonable and realistic as possible. This means offering as much as you can without putting any of your other financial obligations at risk.

Remember, bailiffs will have a fairly good idea of your financial situation and how much you owe so will likely know if you’re offering more than you can afford or if you could offer more than you’re suggesting.

When you make an offer of payment to a bailiff, it can be useful to send the offer to your creditor too. They will have instructed the court to send bailiffs to your address so you may be able to get a quicker decision by going straight to them directly.

What do I do if I can’t afford my payment plan anymore?

If your circumstances have changed and you’re worried you can no longer afford the payment plan you proposed, you must contact the bailiffs as soon as possible (ideally before you miss your first payment).

When you call them, you should explain why you’re having difficulty making your payments as agreed (e.g. you’ve lost your job). They will then ask you what you can afford based on your new circumstances and may request that you go to your creditor directly for further advice.

Missing payments without informing the bailiffs will lead to your payment plan being cancelled with no warning. They may put your case on hold and freeze interest and charges while you work out your next steps but you must ask them to do this as soon as possible.

What are some misconceptions about bailiffs?

The word ‘bailiff’ is widely feared because many people think they are allowed to do whatever they like to recover a debt.

However, there are many misconceptions about bailiffs that simply aren’t true. We’ve outlined some of the most common misconceptions about bailiffs below:

They are uninterested in negotiating

Most bailiffs will ask if you can repay the debt in full when they visit you but will be understanding if you can only afford to make regular payments towards what you owe.

The only time a bailiff will start removing goods to repay the debt is if you can’t come to an agreement or can’t afford to pay anything towards the debt. The sooner you respond to a notice of enforcement, the greater your chances of negotiation.

They lack empathy and understanding

Bailiffs have a reputation for being unsympathetic and aggressive, but this isn’t always the case and they should be understanding of the circumstances – especially those outside of your control – that led to you getting into debt in the first place.

Remember, you have the right to complain about a bailiff if you think they have treated you in a way that is unfair or constitutes harassment.

They can take whatever they like

One of the biggest concerns among people facing bailiff action is that all of their belongings will be seized to repay the debt. However, there are strict rules governing which items bailiffs can and can’t remove from your home.

When a bailiff visits you, they will prioritise items with the highest resale value, such as vehicles, jewellery, and electronics. They are prohibited from seizing items that you need on a day-to-day basis, such as white goods, clothing, and furniture.

They can force entry

While bailiffs have the right to force entry, they can only do so under exceptional circumstances and if specific criteria have been met.

For example, they can only force their way into your home if they are there to collect unpaid criminal fines, they have gained peaceful entry on a previous visit, or they are there to take control of goods.


If you’ve ever wondered: ‘Can a bailiff refuse a payment plan?’ The answer is yes. This usually happens if the amount proposed is unrealistic or the bailiff has enough reason to believe that you’re in a position to pay more than you’re offering.

Before suggesting a payment plan to a bailiff, it may be useful to seek free advice from a financial charity, adviser, or organisation (e.g. Citizens Advice) to help you propose a monthly amount that aligns with your circumstances.

You may be able to challenge a bailiff’s decision to refuse your payment plan but you should always try and submit an offer of payment – no matter how small – if you can as this shows that you’re committed to setting your debt.

Key Takeaways

When a bailiff visits you, they will usually ask you to repay the debt in full or through a payment plan
A bailiff can refuse your payment plan if they think it's unreasonable or the creditor is unlikely to accept the amount suggested
Despite their tough reputation, most bailiffs will be happy to accept a payment plan where you make regular contributions towards the debt
If you can no longer afford your payment plan, you must inform the bailiffs as soon as possible
Bailiffs can't take whatever items they like when they visit you and can only visit between certain hours
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:


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

Current Version

June 5 2024

Written by
Maxine McCreadie

Edited by
Ben McCormack

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