Bailiffs get a makeover: what’s going to happen?

posted by in Debt news

Bailiff changes

Bailiffs are changing

Bailiffs have been part of debt law in England and Wales for over a thousand years.  In fact the oldest law that’s still on the books in England, the 1267 Statute of Marlborough, concerns stopping bailiffs taking too much property.

Of course a lot has changed over the centuries and bailiff law has grown into a complicated subject. Now for the first time, the government have revised all of this legislation, and starting from April 6th bailiff law in England and Wales enters the 21st Century.

(Nothing’s changing if you live in Scotland or Northern Ireland though. The laws there are nowhere near as convoluted as bailiff law in England and Wales!)

If you’re worried, we can provide expert bailiff advice. Here are a few of the questions we get asked about this much-maligned profession, and what the changes in April will mean to you.

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Help, I’m confused! What’s going on with bailiffs?

Lots of people are left confused by bailiffs. It can be hard to understand what their letters mean and sometimes it’s not clear why – or even if – bailiffs have visited.

First, the changes in April mean that lots of that medieval language is being replaced with modern English.

So there’s no more worrying what a ‘warrant of execution’ might involve* – that’s being ditched. Even bailiffs themselves have been renamed, and are now called enforcement agents.

There’ll be no more surprise visits because you’ll now get at least a week’s notice before the first visit from an enforcement agent. And to make the process easier to understand, when they come they’ll have to leave a letter explaining clearly what they’ve done.

This means there’ll be less mystery around the enforcement process, which can only be a good thing.

*You won’t be executed. It’s the instructions from a court to an enforcement agent, now renamed a ‘warrant of control’.

Can bailiffs, sorry, enforcement agents, break in?

Not much has changed here and enforcement agents still can’t force their way into your house. It’s still illegal for them to break anything, put their foot in the door or push past you to get in.

They can still use force to enter when they’re collecting criminal fines or tax debts from HM Revenue & Customs, but they’ll need to ask a judge for permission first.  And as before, if an enforcement agent has been into your house and made a list of goods, they can use force to enter again if you don’t pay them.

We’re happy to see that enforcement agents won’t be allowed to climb in through your window now. And the law now stops them coming in if only children or vulnerable adults are in the house.

What can bailiffs take?

Enforcement agents can take any goods you own, including those you own jointly with someone else. But they must leave essential household goods, and there’s now a more realistic list of items exempted from the list, such as your fridge, phone, microwave and washing machine.

Items needed to care for children, disabled and older people can no longer be taken, and there’s new protection for items used for studying.

Cars have always been a target for enforcement agents, and that won’t change. The new regulations allow them to clamp cars on any public road and tow them away after two hours. There’s some good news about cars though, as vehicles needed by a disabled person to get around can’t be taken now.

Will the bailiffs take all my goods straight away?

No, you’ll normally get a chance to pay the debt first. Enforcement agents will make a list of your goods if they come into your home. They have the power to take them straight away, but they’re very unlikely to do this. Instead they’ll make an agreement to leave the goods with you as long as you make payments to the debt. This used to be known as ‘walking possession’, but it’s now called a ‘controlled goods agreement’.

Enforcement agents have a new option of locking your goods in a cupboard or room in your house to stop you removing them before the debt is paid. We don’t think this’ll be used often for goods inside the house, but they can use these new rules to clamp your car on the drive or in your garage.

How much can bailiffs charge?

Fees are probably the biggest worry for anyone when enforcement agents call. Until now there were different fees for each type of debt, with many of these relying on what an enforcement agent thought was ‘reasonable’.

Thankfully the new fees are much easier to understand. There’ll just be two lists of fees with the amounts fixed in law, so there’s no room for enforcement agents to overcharge. You can probably guess the bad news – the fees may be simpler, but in many cases they’ll be more expensive.

How can I complain about a bailiff?

No one enjoys dealing with enforcement agents, but most of the time they follow the rules and act fairly. Still, there are times when rules get broken. If you feel you’ve been treated unfairly by an enforcement agent you can make a complaint.

The new regulations include a process to take serious complaints to court where a judge can order an enforcement agent to give back your goods or pay you compensation. We’re still waiting for the details of this new process to be published (to keep up with the latest we’d recommend signing up to the MoneyAware newsletter).

In the meantime, the best starting point for complaints is a letter to the enforcement agent’s employer and the creditor. If you don’t get an answer you’re happy with, you can take the complaint further with the enforcement agent’s trade body.

Our verdict

It’s a mixed bag. Many of the changes will make the enforcement process fairer and easier to understand, but some changes aren’t so good.

The new regulations have been sixteen years in the making, and the government had to weigh up opinions from all sides. So it’s not surprising that we haven’t got all the improvements we’d have liked and some opportunities have been missed. For example, we wanted to see an independent regulator to oversee enforcement agents, but plans for this were dropped.

One thing that definitely hasn’t changed is that a visit from an enforcement agent (or bailiff!) is a warning sign that you need to get free and impartial advice straight away.

To speak to us, please call 0800 138 1111 (Monday to Friday 8am to 8pm, Saturday 8am to 4pm, Free from all landlines and mobiles.


Tags Debt news
  • billybloggs

    These changes mainly benefit the enforcer not a hard pressed debtor.

  • moneyaware

    Hi Marcel,

    The vehicle is protected so long as the following criteria is met:

    The vehicle’s worth under £1,350 (though the law gives no guidance if this is based on current value or new value)

    The vehicle is deemed as ‘necessary’ – i.e. the debtor can’t possibly do their job without it

    The client uses it ‘personally’ – i.e. they don’t share it

    If any of these don’t apply, the vehicle can be taken. Vehicles
    owned by partnerships aren’t protected, only those owned by sole traders. Trade vehicles on lease or HP are protected because they’re owned entirely by a third party. Same applies to trade vehicles owned by a limited company.

    Hope this helps

    Best regards


  • moneyaware


    If the bailiff’s licence had expired before he took the van you may want to complain to the bailiff’s trade association. There is a .Gov page explaining how to do that here

    The criteria for taking the van that Rachel mentioned before is correct – explain the situation when you complain. The trade association should be able to clarify whether they had grounds to take the van.

    I hope this helps.


  • sam

    When can bailiffs take control of goods? days and times? can the come on sundays??

    • moneyaware

      Hi Sam,

      A bailiff (enforcement agent) can visit a property and take
      control of goods on any day of the week. They can only visit a property and take control of goods between 6am and 9pm, however there are three exceptions to this rule:

      · The enforcement agent is attending a business premises which is only open during the ‘prohibited’ 9pm to 6am period.

      · If the enforcement agent entered premises before 9pm and needs to stay until after 9pm to search for goods, take goods into control, inspect or remove goods, they can remain in the premises to complete the task as long as they don’t stay for an unreasonable amount of time.

      · An enforcement agent can ask a court for permission to attend
      premises between 9pm and 6am. The enforcement agent would need to give a reason for this, for example they’ve tried multiple times to visit during permitted hours and the client has been avoiding them.

      There is also some guidance called the “National Standards” that
      place further limits on when an enforcement agent should visit, but these are only guidelines rather than a legal requirement.

      The “National Standards” say that enforcement agents should
      avoid visiting on Sundays, Good Friday or Christmas Day. They should also be respectful of religious or cultural festivals, or return on a different day if it’s clear that you’re observing a festival.

      Hope this helps.

      Kind regards,

  • sam

    Thank u Rory for the info top man 🙂

  • sam

    can the take my cars if its not under my name?? can the tell who is driving by checking cars insurance??

    • moneyaware

      Hi Sam,

      I’m not entirely sure of the methods they’ll use to work out if a car is yours. If it’s not your car then they shouldn’t take it to pay your debts.

      If you’re dealing with bailiffs and haven’t come to an agreement with them I’d recommend you come to us for in-depth debt advice. Here’s our contact details:

      Kind regards


  • sam

    or road tax??

    thank u sam

  • sam

    Thank u James.

  • Type-8

    Learn about Data Protection and have that basic understanding handy when they turn up.

    There are all manner of ways they can get themselves in trouble if they can not confirm who you are but they bring up ANY personal matters without knowing who they are talking to.

    You’re under no obligation to identify yourself or confirm that you are who they are looking for – even if you are.

    Ask them more about the matter – either they won’t discuss it with you or they will.

    If they do BAM Data Protection breached as they have discussed your personal matters with someone they do not know.

    If they don’t “please leave I feel harassed and threatened I’m calling the Police”.

    If you can piss them off by being really quietly offensive get them done for breach of the peace.

  • Michael Bassett

    can bailiffs/debt collectors still gain access through peaceful means ie unlocked door for a civil debt?, also shouldn’t they check with the courts that they have genuine documentation and are not fraudulently used ones.

  • Danielle

    i work for a car company and we can have a new car every 6 months ,payment is taken from your wages and we are the reg keeper of the car but not the reg owner . can the bailiffs take that car from me ?