What happens if I have nothing for bailiffs to take?

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This article will go into more detail about what to expect when bailiffs visit, including what can happen if you have nothing for them to take.

If you’re dealing with debt and have little to no money or assets to repay what you owe, you may be worried about what bailiffs will take when they visit you.

However, there are processes in place for situations like this, and it’s important to remember that bailiffs can’t remove essential items or items that belong to anyone other than the debtor under any circumstances.

What is a bailiff?

The thought of enforcement officers knocking on your door can be worrying, but understanding what a bailiff is and what they do can help put your mind at ease.

Put simply, a bailiff (officially known as an enforcement agent) is someone with the legal power to collect an unpaid debt on behalf of a creditor (the person or company you owe). They do this by visiting your home, removing your belongings, and selling them to pay off your debt.

Bailiffs typically work for private companies but they can also be self-employed or work on behalf of a third party (e.g. a local authority to collect council tax arrears or a mobile phone company to collect unpaid phone bills).

The types of debt a bailiff can collect include child maintenance arrears, council tax debt, and County Court Judgments (CCJs). These debts are considered ‘priority debts’, which means you can face serious consequences if you don’t pay them.

Is a bailiff the same as a debt collector?

Despite both being authorised to collect unpaid debts, bailiffs and debt collectors are not the same and there are some key differences you should know about.

The biggest difference between bailiffs and debt collectors is the legal power they hold. For example, while bailiffs are extended legal power from the court, debt collectors have no more legal power than your creditors and can only ask you to arrange repayment of the debt.

This means that, if someone claiming to be from a debt collection agency visits you, they can’t legally take anything from your home or force you to make a payment.

The types of debt collected also varies with bailiffs typically hired to recover debts after there has been a dispute in court while debt collectors are usually reserved for smaller debts that don’t require court assistance, such as personal loans, credit cards, and unpaid goods and services.

What happens when a bailiff visits?

There is a set process that enforcement agents must follow when they visit you to collect payment on a debt. We’ve outlined this process below:

They apply for a warrant of control

The people you owe money to will ask a bailiff to recover a debt on their behalf by applying for something called a ‘warrant of control.

This is a court order that gives bailiffs the legal power to remove goods from your home and sell them at auction to repay the debt.

You receive a notice of enforcement

Once the bailiff has been granted a warrant of control, they will send you a letter called a ‘notice of enforcement’ or ‘enforcement notice’.

This is a document that clearly explains the reason for their visit and how long you have to pay off the debt in full or arrange a repayment plan (usually seven days). If you don’t respond within this time, bailiffs will visit you.

You enter a controlled goods agreement

If you can’t afford to repay the debt in full, the bailiffs will visit you and make a list of items they can sell at auction to recover the debt as part of a ‘controlled goods agreement’.

This is a letter that lists all the valuable items in your home that a bailiff will return to remove and sell if you fail to keep up with a pre-agreed payment plan.

However, a controlled goods agreement must be signed by all parties to be valid and bailiffs rarely remove goods during their first visit.

What items can bailiffs take?

Some people think a bailiff can remove whatever items they like as long as it allows them to repay all or most of the debt, but this isn’t true.

They can only take goods that they can physically touch, have clear access to, and can remove quickly if they need to. This means that they can’t seize goods that they can only see through a window or letterbox but wouldn’t be able to physically reach if they tried to.

They must also leave you with items you need to maintain a certain standard of living, such as clothing, furniture, and white goods (e.g. cooker, microwave, and fridge), and can’t take anything that would leave anyone in the household short.

Usually, a bailiff will seek out high-value items they know will sell relatively quickly and fetch a good price at auction like vehicles, jewellery, and electronics.

Can bailiffs take my car?

More often than not, a car will be the most valuable item someone owns – even if it’s not particularly new or flashy. Because of this, it’s usually the first thing bailiffs look for when they visit someone’s home to collect a debt.

However, there are some limitations bailiffs should stick to and they can’t just seize your car without checking how much it’s worth or what it’s used for first.

For example, if they can’t find your car or they can’t prove that the car parked on the street outside is yours, they can’t remove it. This is why some people prefer to park their car a few streets away or outside a friend or family member’s home when they are expecting bailiffs.

Furthermore, bailiffs can’t seize a car if it is used by a disabled person and has a registered blue badge, if it is used as a main home (e.g. caravan or mobile home), if it is required for work and is worth less than £1,350, or if it was bought using a logbook or hire purchase loan and hasn’t been paid off yet.

When can bailiffs visit?

Bailiffs can visit on any day of the week (excluding public holidays and religious or cultural festivals) but they can only carry out their enforcement duties between the hours of 6am and 9pm.

They may be able to visit outside of these hours if they get a warrant from the court but if they visit before 6am or after 9pm without a court warrant, you have the right to make a complaint.

Remember, bailiffs must give you seven days’ clear notice before they visit you to give you a chance to repay the debt or come up with a payment plan that you can reasonably afford.

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How many times can bailiffs visit?

There is no limit to the number of times bailiffs can attempt to visit you to recover payment of a debt and they will usually call several times in an attempt to reach an agreement with you.

However, if they visit multiple times and are unable to gain entry, they will usually return the warrant to the court or your local authority to hand the debt back to your creditor to recover.

Remember, bailiffs can only visit between certain hours and must give you sufficient notice before they turn up at your door. This means that they can’t visit in the middle of the night or try to bump into you at work in an attempt to trick you into paying.

What happens if I have nothing for bailiffs to take?

If a bailiff has searched your home and turned up nothing of significant value, there is very little they can do. We’ve outlined what is likely to happen in this situation below:

They may still charge fees

Even if a bailiff is unable to seize any assets from your home, they will still charge for their time and effort in trying to collect the debt.

This fee will be added to your existing balance and you’ll be required to pay it alongside the money you already owe.

Legal proceedings will continue

If bailiffs are unable to successfully recover the money owed, you won’t be absolved from the financial responsibility of the debt.

This means that you’ll still owe the debt and legal proceedings may continue until full or partial payment has been made.

Your creditor may take over the debt

When a bailiff has failed to seize assets or collect payment, they may send the debt back to your original creditor who will take over the recovery process.

This may sound like the best possible income but your creditor can seek further legal action against you (e.g. bankruptcy order) and may ramp up their collection efforts if they’ve been waiting a long time for the money they are owed.

Can a bailiff force entry into my home?

Though bailiffs are not allowed to force entry into your home for most debts (e.g. unpaid council tax, credit cards, overdrafts etc.), you can’t physically stop a bailiff from entering if they are collecting tax debts owed to HMRC or unpaid criminal fines or are returning to a property where they have previously gained peaceful entry.

Under these circumstances, bailiffs may also be given the right to a locksmith to gain access to your home. The costs involved in doing this will be added to your total debt and you’ll be expected to pay them alongside your usual debt repayments.

They also can’t force their way past you if you open the door to them and don’t give them permission to enter. Ultimately, if bailiffs attempt to force their way into your home without a warrant or reasonable cause, you can ask them to leave and submit a complaint against them.

Can bailiffs enter my home and remove goods when I’m not there?

The only time bailiffs can enter your home when you’re not there is if someone lets them in. This is called making ‘peaceable entry’ and means bailiffs have been given your permission to enter or have been granted authorisation from the court to enter.

Similarly, bailiffs can enter if you’ve made it easy for them to do so by leaving a window or door open. This includes leaving a key in a lock.

However, for most types of debt, bailiffs can only enter the property if someone is present to let them in and that person is an adult and not classed as vulnerable (e.g. a child, a disabled person, or someone suffering from a mental health problem).

If you want to prevent a bailiff from entering your home when you’re not there, you must ensure all windows and doors are firmly locked and instruct anyone else living with you not to let them in if they knock on the door when you’re not there.

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Is there anything else I should know before bailiffs visit?

If you are expecting a visit from bailiffs, there are some things you should know beforehand.

Remember, bailiffs don’t need to enter a property to take control of goods and can list goods they can see through a window as long as they can physically reach them. Because of this, you may want to keep all curtains and blinds closed and move all valuable goods to where they can’t be seen.

However, if bailiffs list goods through your window, you can choose whether or not you want to sign the controlled goods agreement. If you don’t sign, they can’t force entry into your home or remove goods without being let into your home.

If bailiffs have broken any of these rules or lied to try and trick you into paying the debt, you should complain to the company they work for. Knowing your rights can help you recognise when you’re being treated unfairly by bailiffs.


Facing bailiff action can be stressful and it’s normal to worry about how your belongings could be treated when they turn up at your door and ask you to repay your debt.

However, if you have nothing for bailiffs to take, it doesn’t mean that nothing will happen and your debt will automatically be written off. In most cases, you’ll still be charged fees and the bailiffs could return the debt to your creditor which could result in further legal action.

The only way to stop bailiffs from returning is to arrange payment of the debt – either by paying your total balance upfront or agreeing to pay it in regular instalments. If you’re worried about bailiffs, don’t hesitate to seek free debt advice from a debt adviser, organisation, or charity.

Key Takeaways

When a bailiff visits you, they will make a list of valuable items they can potentially remove and sell to repay the debt
Bailiffs can't seize essential items you need for daily life, such as clothing, furniture, and white goods
Most bailiffs will look for valuable items first like vehicles, jewellery, and electronics
If you don't have any items for bailiffs to take, you may still be charged fees and your creditor might take over the collection process
Bailiffs can only visit you when you're not there if someone lets them in or you leave a door or window open or unlocked
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 12 2024

Written by
Maxine McCreadie

Edited by
Ben McCormack

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