We use Cookies on this site:

If you want to find out more, see our Cookies Policy. Click anywhere in this area to hide this message.

National Debtline

Advice you can trust

Bailiff action

Get more information and understand your rights

The law on bailiffs is complicated. This page gives more information to help you understand your rights and how best to deal with bailiff action.

Bailiff action

Get more information and understand your rights

The law on bailiffs is complicated. This page gives more information to help you understand your rights and how best to deal with bailiff action.

smiling woman - free debt advice National Debtline

If a bailiff calls

  • You should get notice in advance that a bailiff is likely to call.
  • If you know that a visit is likely, make sure that you do not leave any external doors open. Although bailiffs should not get into your home through an open window, it is still a good idea to keep your windows closed.
  • If the bailiffs have not already taken details of your car, hide it well away from your property or lock it in a garage. If you do not have access to a garage, you could park the vehicle away from your property. However, if the bailiff finds it, they could clamp and possibly remove it. The bailiffs can also clamp and possibly remove your vehicle if you park it on your own drive.
  • When bailiffs visit, they should show you identification such as a badge or ID card, when you request it, so you know who they are.
  • In most cases, bailiffs should not force entry to your home if they have not been in before.
  • You do not have to let the bailiff into your home if they have not been in peacefully before.

Gained entry?

If the bailiff has been into your home, taken control of your goods properly and you have not kept to any agreement you made with them, they usually have the right to return and take your goods. There are goods that bailiffs should not take, such as essential household items or items that belong to someone else.

Keep calm and don’t be intimidated. Getting angry or fighting with a bailiff will make the situation worse.

When can bailiffs force entry?

There are limited situations when a bailiff can force entry to your property if they have not been in before.

  • The bailiff is collecting a criminal magistrates’ court fine.
  • HM Revenue and Customs are collecting tax debts. The court’s permission is needed for this.
  • County court bailiffs or High Court Enforcement Officers can break into business property.
  • In practice, it is rare for these types of bailiff to force entry. Also, remember that other types of bailiff should not force entry if they have not been in before.


How to make payments to bailiffs

It is really important to try to make an offer of payment that you can afford and to start making the payments as soon as possible.

When you make an offer of payment to the bailiff, show them a copy of your budget sheet. Explain your circumstances and why you are struggling to pay. If you find it difficult to negotiate with them, consider putting your offer in writing. Always get a receipt if you make cash payments to a bailiff.

Sometimes, you can ask the creditor to let you pay them directly. This can work if the bailiff is collecting council tax you owe to your local authority.

Check to see if you have the right to ask a court to take back the debt and look at what you can afford to pay. This might be possible if your debt is in the county court or High Court or if you have a magistrates’ court fine.

Complaining about bailiffs

Get a written breakdown of what the bailiffs say you owe. The law says that the bailiffs can only add set charges to your debt. You can complain if they have charged you too much.

If you are not sure whether bailiffs have the powers they say they have, get advice. All bailiffs should behave professionally. They must act within the law at all times and follow agreed national standards.

Most bailiffs need to have a certificate from the county court to allow them to act. You can complain to the court and ask for the bailiff’s certificate to be withdrawn. Contact us for advice if you are considering making this type of complaint or if you need extra help to deal with bailiffs.

Make a written complaint

If you are not happy with the way a bailiff has acted, you can make a written complaint.

If you are not happy with their response, you can take your complaint further.

You might be able to complain to the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman if you owe council tax or parking penalty charge notices.

Most private bailiffs belong to the Civil Enforcement Association, which operates a complaints procedure for their members.


We are part of a campaign for bailiff reform. You can help us by:

  • sharing your experience about bailiff action; and
  • using #bailiffreform on social media.