If things get really bad and you are faced with aggressive debt collectors, they might try and get their money back is sending round an enforcement agent (formerly known as a bailiff). Bailiffs can only be instructed once court action has been taken. Their job is to come to your home and take away things that belong to you and sell them to reduce or repay your debt. 

If a run-in with one of these guys is something you want to avoid then you’re not alone! Here’s some information about the best way to deal with bailiffs if they come to your door.

Please note that bailiffs do not operate in Scotland - see Harassment by creditors, or in Northern Ireland - see How to deal with your creditors on the Citizens Advice website.

What to do when a bailiff visits

A bailiff (‘enforcement agent’) may visit your home if you don’t pay your debts, eg a Council Tax bill, parking fine, court fine, county court or family court judgment.

This will happen if you ignore letters saying that bailiffs will be used.

Money fitness tip

Take action before the bailiffs come to your door.  They'll charge a fee to come to your home and that will be added to your existing debt.

A bailiff may also visit your home for other reasons, eg to serve court documents or give notices and summons.

There are different kinds of bailiffs, known as:
  • ‘certificated enforcement agents’
  • ‘high court enforcement officers’
  • ‘county court and family court bailiffs’
  • ‘civilian enforcement officers’
Bailiffs must usually give you at least 7 days’ notice of their first visit.


If you live in SFA, especially ‘inside the wire’ your Unit Commanding Officer may refuse admission to baliffs. However, that doesn’t mean you can ignore the problem, you should contact your creditors as soon as possible.

Pay what you owe before a bailiff visits

If you think a bailiff might visit you to collect debts, you can stop this by paying the money you owe. Get advice about how to pay your debt from whoever you owe money to as soon as possible.

Find out what to do if you have a debt that you can’t pay - download this leaflet from HM Courts & Tribunal Service or see Where to get help if you are in debt.

Dealing with bailiffs

You usually don’t have to open your door to a bailiff or let them in.

Bailiffs can’t enter your home:

  • by force, eg push past you
  • if only children under 16 or vulnerable people (eg, disabled) are present 
  • between 9pm and 6am 
  • through anything except the door
If you don’t let a bailiff in or agree to pay them:
  • they could take things from outside your home, eg your car 
  • you could end up owing even more money 
If you do let a bailiff in but don’t pay them they may take some of your belongings. They could sell the items to pay debts and cover their fees.

Check the bailiff’s identity

Before you let a bailiff in to take your things or pay them, ask to see:

  • proof of their identity, eg a badge, ID card or enforcement agent certificate
  • which company they’re from
  • a telephone contact number
  • a detailed breakdown of the amount owed
You can ask for proof of a bailiff’s identity and authorisation even if they’ve visited before, eg ask them to put it through the letterbox or show it at the window.

All bailiffs must have a certificate unless they’re exempt or they’re with someone who does have a certificate.

Anyone who claims to be a bailiff and isn’t one is committing fraud.

To check a bailiff’s identity, find out what kind of bailiff they are from their proof of identity and then:

Paying a bailiff

You can pay the bailiff on the doorstep - you don’t have to let them into your home.

Make sure you get a receipt to prove you’ve paid.

If you can’t pay all the money right away, speak to the bailiff about how you could pay the money back.

Offer to pay what you can afford in weekly or monthly payments.

The bailiff doesn’t have to accept your offer.

What bailiffs can and can’t take

If you let a bailiff into your home, they may take some of your belongings to sell.

Money fitness tip

If you need help in contacting your creditors or dealing with bailiffs, there is free help at hand - see Where to get help if you are in debt.

Bailiffs can take luxury items, eg a TV or games console.

They can’t take:

  • things you need, eg your clothes, cooker, fridge
  • work tools and equipment which together are worth less than £1,350
  • someone else’s belongings, eg your partner’s computer
You’ll have to prove that someone else’s goods don’t belong to you.

What bailiffs can charge

How much you’ll pay will depend on your situation. You can get more information on bailiff’s fees from Citizens Advice.

Some bailiffs (such as high court enforcement officers) add VAT to their fees.Money fitness tip

Help or advice

You can get free help or advice on dealing with bailiffs from:

be aware

Bailiffs are allowed to force their way into your home to collect unpaid criminal fines, Income Tax or Stamp Duty, but only as a last resort.

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How to complain about a bailiff

You can complain about a bailiff if you think they’ve broken the rules, eg if they:

  • threaten or harass you
  • try to break into your home
  • try to charge you incorrect fees
  • take goods belonging to someone else

Who you need to complain to depends on whether the bailiff’s a:

  • private bailiff who works for a private company, ie a certificated enforcement agent or high court enforcement officer
  • county or family court bailiff, or a civilian enforcement officer who works directly for the court

Complain about a private bailiff

Most bailiffs work for private companies, even if they’re collecting money for the council or the government.

You should first complain to the company the bailiff works for or the people you owe money to.

Complain to a trade organisation

You may also be able to complain to the bailiff’s trade association.

Check the membership lists on the trade associations’ websites:

Complain to the trade association if the bailiff’s a member. Follow the complaints procedure on the association’s website.

Complain about a county or family court bailiff or civilian enforcement officer

You can make a complaint in writing or use the complaint form if you’re complaining about a county or family court bailiff or civilian enforcement officer.

Find out where to send the form by using court finder on

Last reviewed: 18/06/2018