How do bailiffs know you have a car?

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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 owe money and have been threatened with bailiff action, you may be worried about your car and what could happen to it if bailiffs (enforcement agents) visit and attempt to seize it to recover the debt.

However, there are certain rules an enforcement agent must follow when they visit you to recover payment of a debt and they won’t just remove the first car they see or the vehicle parked closest to your home.

What will bailiffs do when they visit me?

If you’ve received a letter warning you that bailiffs will visit soon, it’s important you know what to expect. This document is called an ‘enforcement notice’ or ‘notice of enforcement’ and will give you at least seven days’ notice of bailiffs visiting.

When bailiffs visit, they will start by asking if you can repay the debt in full. If you can’t, they will create something called a ‘controlled goods agreement’, which gives them the right to return and seize your belongings if you stop making payments.

If you stick to the controlled goods agreement as agreed, bailiffs will have no reason to keep visiting you and you should be left alone. However, if you miss a payment, bailiffs will return and seize the items listed in the controlled goods agreement and there is very little you can do to stop this from happening.

What items can bailiffs take?

There are certain rules bailiffs must follow when visiting you and this extends to the items they are and are not allowed to take from your home.

In most cases, bailiffs will look for luxury goods that they can sell quickly and for a good price. They can also only seize goods that they have access to and can physically remove, meaning they can’t remove items they see through a letterbox or window.

Some of the items bailiffs can take include:

  • Jewellery
  • Vehicles
  • Furniture
  • Electrical goods (televisions, computers, game consoles etc.)

Bailiffs can also take jointly-owned goods, such as a television, stereo, or car you bought with someone else, but they are only entitled to your share of the item.

What items can bailiffs not take?

The list of items bailiffs can’t take from your home is extensive. These items – known as ‘exempt goods’ and ‘third-party goods’ cover things you need to maintain a reasonable standard of living, things that would leave anyone in your household short, and things owned outright by someone else living in the property.

Some of the items bailiffs can’t take include:

  • White goods (cookers, microwaves, fridges etc.)
  • Phones (both landline and mobile)
  • Medical or care equipment
  • Goods used for work or study up to a maximum value of £1,350 (books, tools, computer equipment etc.)

Remember, while bailiffs primarily focus on items that they should be able to sell relatively quickly and for a good price at auction, they are not limited to these items and can seize anything as long as it’s not exempt.

Can bailiffs take my car?

Because bailiffs focus on items that allow them to pay the debt in a relatively short space of time, they will usually check if you have a vehicle before any other items in your home. They can do this before they enter your home or if you’re not home and will likely clamp it before removing it to prevent you from moving it to a different location.

Even if you don’t own a particularly flashy or modern car, it’s still likely the most expensive thing you own and there’s always a demand for second-hand vehicles.

The good news is, bailiffs should never visit without giving you at least seven days’ notice so you should never find yourself in a situation where you leave for work or to take your children to school to find your car unexpectedly clamped or towed.

However, if you’re expecting bailiffs, it may be useful to park your car somewhere where enforcement agents can’t find it and remove it. If you have a garage or can leave it parked outside a friend or family member’s home, it’s worth doing this a few days before a bailiff visits.

Some people think that parking their car on the next street is enough to keep bailiffs away but this is risky. Most bailiffs will check the streets surrounding your home if they know you have a car and some even use automatic number plate recognition cameras to identify vehicles.

Can bailiffs clamp my car if it’s parked on my driveway?

If you owe money and haven’t responded to a CCJ or other attempts by your creditor to recover the debt, bailiffs have the legal right to claim your car – even if it’s parked on your driveway.

They can also clamp it if it’s parked at your place of work or on a public highway but can only clamp it on private land if they have a court warrant to take control of the vehicle from that particular location.

This is usually the first thing bailiffs will do when they identify your car as it prevents you from moving and hiding it. Most people also keep their car parked in their driveway if they have one so it can be a quick and easy way for bailiffs to link you to an asset.

Once bailiffs begin the process of taking control of your car, you shouldn’t try to stop them or attempt to get into the vehicle and drive away. If you’re happy to voluntarily hand over the keys, bailiffs may not need to clamp your car.

Remember, bailiffs can still clamp your car if you don’t allow them to come into your home so if you’re expecting bailiff action, it may be a good idea to park it elsewhere for a short while.

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How do bailiffs know you have a car?

If you’re expecting bailiff action and have a car, you may be wondering how enforcement agents know you have a car and, more importantly, which of the cars parked outside belongs to you.

The truth is, bailiffs and bailiff companies don’t have any special powers to verify that a car is yours and can only base their decision on what they’ve seen and heard. For example, if they’ve seen you driving the car near your home and parking it in your driveway, this is usually enough to confirm that the car is yours.

Despite having extended legal powers from the court, bailiffs don’t have access to any national vehicle databases, such as the Driver Vehicle Licence Authority (DVLA) or Police National Computer (PNC), to find out which vehicle is yours.

The only time they will be able to identify your vehicle is if the debt they are collecting is related to the vehicle (e.g. a parking fine or logbook loan) as this information will be listed on the debt.

Put simply, the only way to retain ownership of your car is to repay the debt or agree to repay the debt in regular instalments. This will put a stop to bailiff action and allow you to keep all your belongings, including your car.

When can bailiffs not take my car?

There are certain instances in which bailiffs can’t clamp or seize your car – even if it’s parked outside your home and could be easily removed. They can’t take your vehicle if it’s:

  • Displaying a blue badge or is used by a disabled person
  • Subject to a logbook loan or hire purchase agreement that’s not been repaid in full
  • Required for work and is worth less than £1,350
  • Used as a police vehicle or ambulance
  • Used as your main residence (e.g. a campervan, houseboat, or caravan)
  • Parked on someone else’s private land (unless the bailiffs have a court warrant)

Some bailiffs will still remove a car on hire purchase and sell it back to the manufacturer to collect the debt against it, but you may be able to argue this and prevent them from seizing it.

How long will my car be clamped for?

Once your car has been clamped, you will have a maximum of two hours to stop bailiffs from removing it and taking it away to be sold. So, if you want to keep your car, it’s important you act fast.

If you want to stop your car from being removed while it’s clamped, you must:

Pay off the debt in full

The quickest way to stop your car from being seized is to repay the debt in full, including court costs and fees.

The number you should call will be listed on the document you got from the bailiff when your car was clamped. This is called a ‘warning of immobilisation’ and includes details such as the time it was clamped and who to contact.

Agree to a controlled goods agreement

If you’re not in a position to repay the debt in full, you should agree to a controlled goods agreement. This is when you agree to pay the debt in regular instalments in exchange for being able to keep your car.

However, if you miss a payment or fail to stick to the agreed terms and conditions, bailiffs will return and seize your car to repay the debt. This is why you must only suggest a payment plan that you know you’ll be able to afford.

Can bailiffs take someone else’s vehicle to repay my debt?

Just as bailiffs can’t remove items belonging to someone else to repay your debt, they also can’t remove vehicles belonging to someone else. They can, however, remove a vehicle if you own it jointly with someone else.

If bailiffs try to remove a vehicle that belongs to a parent, friend, or flatmate, you should ask the owner of the vehicle to contact the DVLA to prove that they’re the registered owner. It may also be useful to get free advice from a financial charity or organisation, such as Citizens Advice.

The DVLA will ask to see evidence that proves the car is theirs, such as a car finance agreement, proof of purchase, or any other documentation that matches their name to the vehicle registration.

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How do I complain about bailiffs?

If bailiffs have treated you in a way that you think is unfair or unlawful, you have the right to complain to the bailiff themselves or the bailiff company they work for.

It may also be helpful to complain directly to the person you owe money to (your creditor) or a professional body (e.g. the High Court Enforcement Officers’ Association). This might help you get a quicker response.

You can complain if bailiffs visit outside of set hours, pressure you into paying, or take goods they’re not supposed to. Familiarising yourself with bailiff rights before they visit can help you recognise when you’re being treated unfairly.

If you are not happy with the way your complaint is handled, you can escalate it to a monitoring organisation, the police, or the civil courts. They will review your original complaint and help you find a resolution.


Bailiffs will usually check if you own a car before looking for other items in your home to seize. However, they can only seize your vehicle if it’s parked in your driveway or it’s obvious that it belongs to you.

Most people park their cars away from their homes when they know bailiffs are visiting soon. If bailiffs can’t find your car, they won’t be able to locate it or remove it.

The only time bailiffs will be able to link you directly to your car is when the debt is related to the vehicle. This is usually the case for debts involving parking fines, logbook loans, and hire purchase agreements.

Key Takeaways

Bailiffs will usually check if you own a car before looking for any other belongings in your home
Your car can't be seized if it's used by a disabled person or you're still paying it through a hire purchase agreement
Bailiffs don't have access to any legal databases to match you to a vehicle and can only seize it if they see you driving it or if it is parked in your driveway
It's recommended to park your car away from your home if you're expecting bailiff action
If bailiffs try to remove a vehicle belonging to someone else, they must contact the DVLA and prove they're the registered owner
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 18 2024

Written by
Maxine McCreadie

Edited by
Ben McCormack

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