What can bailiffs take?

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In this guide, we’ll explain the rules bailiffs must follow when they remove items from your home, including which items are allowed and which are exempt.

If you’re in debt and are facing bailff action as a result, you’ve probably already thought about items the enforcement agents may seize from you when they visit your home.

However, there are certain rules bailiffs must follow when they visit you to recover payment of a debt and they will never seize any belongings you need for daily life or remove items for the sake of it.

In this guide, we’ll explain the rules bailiffs must follow when they remove items from your home, including which items are allowed and which are exempt.

What is a bailiff?

The term ‘bailiff‘ is commonly used to describe someone who collects debts but it’s important you know what they can and can’t do. Put simply, a bailiff (officially called an enforcement agent or a certificated enforcement agent) is someone who is hired by the court to collect unpaid debts on behalf of your creditor (the person you owe money to).

There are various different types of enforcement agents that operate in the UK. We’ve outlined each in more detail below:

County Court bailiff

A County Court bailiff is an enforcement officer employed by the County Court of England and Wales. County Court bailiffs primarily enforce a type of court order known as a County Court Judgment, which is a kind of court order that creditors can apply for to force you to repay what you owe, and can seize goods to recover the debt.

High Court enforcement officer

A High Court enforcement officer (sometimes known as a High Court bailiff) is an enforcement officer employed by the High Court of England and Wales. High Court enforcement officers are hired to enforce higher value judgments, which are also known as High Court Writs.

Family Court bailiff

A Family Court bailiff is an enforcement officer employed by the Family Court of England and Wales. Family Court bailiffs primarily deal with cases related to family matters, such as child maintenance arrears, divorce, and other financial obligations of a similar nature.

Civilian enforcement officer

A civilian enforcement officer is an enforcement officer authorised by His Majesty’s Courts & Tribunals Service to enforce Magistrates’ Court orders. Civilian enforcement officers can seize and sell goods to recover money owed and execute warrants of arresr, committal, detention, and distraint.

Is a bailiff the same as a debt collector?

Both bailiffs and debt collectors are authorised to collect unpaid debts, but there are some key differences you should be aware of – especially if you’re expecting a visit from either of them.

The most important thing to remember about debt collectors is that they don’t have the same legal powers as bailiffs. So while they can ask you to repay the debt, they can’t enter your home or seize your belongings like a bailiff can.

The types of debt typically collected also differs between debt collectors bailiffs. For example, debt collectors tend to collect loans, credit cards, overdrafts, and utility arrears while bailiffs focus on more serious debts like unpaid CCJs, council tax arrears, business debts, child maintenance arrears, and income tax arrears.

How does bailiff action work?

Knowing what happens when bailiffs visit can help you know what’s likely to happen ahead of time. We’ve provided a brief summary of what to expect here:

Warrant of control

The first step is your creditor applying for a warrant of control, which is a legal document from the County Court that gives bailiffs the right to remove goods from your home and sell them to repay the debt.

Notice of enforcement

Once the bailiff has a warrant of control, they will serve you with a notice of enforcement, which is a letter warning you that bailiffs will visit after seven days if you don’t pay the debt or make an arrangement to pay it.

Controlled goods agreement

When a bailiff visits you, they will ask you to repay the debt in full. If you can’t, they will let you pay in monthly instalments and draw up a controlled goods agreement, which is a list of goods they will return and seize if you stop making payments towards the debt.

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What items can bailiffs take?

There are certain items bailiffs are more likely to take when they visit you to recover a debt. They will usually look for items that are likely to sell quickly and for a good price at auction, such as vehicles, some furniture, jewellery, and electrical goods (e.g. computers, game consoles, televisions).

Bailiffs seizing your belongings to pay a debt can seem cruel but they don’t take things punitively or for the sake of it.

They also can’t remove items they can only see through a window or letterbox but can’t physically touch or move, meaning they can’t take things from inside your home if you don’t let them in.

What items can bailiffs not take?

The list of items bailiffs can’t take is much longer than the things they can take. Here is a list of some of the things bailiffs shouldn’t remove from your home:

  • Things you need to live (e.g. white goods, beds and bedding, medical equipment, mobile phones and landlines)
  • Things belonging to someone else (called third-party goods)
  • Things you need for work or study up to a maximum value of £1,350 (e.g. tools, computers, textbooks)
  • Things you’re paying for on finance (hire purchase vehicles, conditional sale agreements)
  • Things permanently attached or fitted (e.g. wardrobes, kitchen units, lighting)

Can bailiffs force entry?

One of the biggest concerns among those facing enforcement action is whether bailiffs can force their way into your home after you refuse them entry. The good news is, bailiffs can only force entry in extreme circumstances and must leave if you ask them to on their first visit.

Bailiffs can only force entry if:

  • You break a controlled goods agreement
  • They’re there to collect an unpaid criminal fine
  • They gained peaceful entry on a previous visit
  • They’re there to collect an outstanding HMRC debt

Remember, some bailiffs will say you have to let them in or you must pay them on the doorstep, but this isn’t true. If you refuse to let them in, they’ll usually respect your wishes and leave but will return at a later date to try and recover payment or seize items.

Can I hide items from bailiffs?

Because bailiffs give you seven days’ notice of enforcement action, you may be tempted to hide or even remove items from your home ahead of their visit. But whether you can do this depends on which stage of the process you’re at.

If, for example, you haven’t received a notice of enforcement or you have received warning but bailiffs haven’t visited yet, you can safely hide or remove items.

If, however, bailiffs have already taken control of goods, interfering with them in any way (e.g. by hiding or removing them) could be considered a criminal offence.

Remember, if bailiffs leave without payment or goods during their first visit, they will return at a later date to try to come to an agreement with you – especially if they believe you have previously hidden or removed goods.

What can I do if bailiffs take items they’re not supposed to?

If bailiffs take items they’re not supposed to, you should take action and complain as soon as possible (ideally within seven days). The bailiffs must then respond to your complaint within 10 days, stating whether they made a mistake or want to challenge your claim.

In your complaint, you should explain why the item was exempt and include evidence of why they shouldn’t have taken it (e.g. if it belonged to someone else or you need it for daily life).

If the bailiffs still refuse to admit their mistake, you can complain to your creditor directly. This may help you get a quicker response.

Do you need help with Bailiffs?


Receiving an enforcement notice can be stressful, but knowing what bailiffs can and can’t take ahead of time can help you know what to expect.

Bailiffs will usually look for high-value items they can sell quickly and for a good price at suction and must never leave you without anything you need to live (e.g. furniture, clothing, and mobility vehicles).

If you’re worried about bailiffs, don’t hesitate to seek free advice from a financial advisor or charity like Citizens Advice. They will review your situation and provide advice on how you should proceed.

Key Takeaways

Certificated enforcement agents should send you at least seven days' notice before they visit you
Bailiffs will look for high-value items like vehicles and electronics to remove and sell to repay the debt
Any items you need to live or that belong to someone else are exempt from being seized and shouldn't be removed
Bailiffs can force entry into your home if they are there to collect unpaid criminal fines or you have broken a controlled goods agreement
You can safely hide or remove items from bailiffs as long as they haven't visited you or made a controlled goods agreement
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 27 2024

Written by
Maxine McCreadie

Edited by
Ben McCormack

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