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What powers do bailiffs have?

The powers of bailiffs and what they are allowed to do by law, depends upon the type of bailiff visiting you. There are strict rules which all types of bailiffs must follow, but their ability to enter a property and take goods is dependent upon on what type of bailiff they are.

What is a bailiff?

A bailiff is a general term for agents instructed to retrieve debts on behalf of the either a creditor or the courts. They have varying degrees of power and are also known as enforcement agents or officers. A high court enforcement officer (HCEO) has different powers to a debt collector. All enforcement agents must be fully certified with a Bailiff General Certificate from the county court, or with someone who is certified whenever they attempt to collect a debt.

A high court enforcement officer is appointed by the court and collects debts on behalf of the courts. They will usually collect debts such as CCJs, VAT income tax, national insurance, court fees and unpaid council tax.

A debt collector is employed by a private individual or company. The biggest and most important difference between debt collectors and enforcement agents, is that a debt collector has no special legal powers to collect a debt, whereas an enforcement agent does.

Find out more about the differences between bailiffs, debt collectors and HCEOs

What are bailiffs allowed to take?

Bailiffs are only allowed to take goods up to the value of the debt involved and cannot take any essential items. This applies when both recovering a debt from an individual or a company. Working on behalf of a private company, a debt collector has no right or power to take any items. Because a HCEO is working on behalf of the courts, legally they have the power to seize goods. Knowing what your rights are regarding what bailiffs can take and how they can enter your premises, is vital as it gives you the best chance of protecting yourself.

Find out more about what bailiffs are allowed to take


Neither HCEOS or debt collectors can take essential items from an individual. These are belongings such as clothes a cooker or fridge, goods which someone cannot live without. They also cannot take possession of objects which belong to someone else, such as a partner. However, they must prove it’s not theirs. Although a debt collector cannot legally take anything, if they are allowed in to take goods, just like a HCEO, they can only take non-essential items. These are possessions such as jewellery, valuable ornaments, games consoles, etc.

  • They are not allowed to take essential assets from an individual or a business premise.
    • For individuals: Any essential items for living fridge, clothes, cooker.
    • For businesses: Any key items the business needs to operate – machinery, office equipment, work tools and equipment which is less than £1,350, or anything on hire purchase.
    • In either circumstance they cannot take someone else’s belongings, but it must be proved that the items in question does not belong to you.

When it comes to either a debt collector or an enforcement agent collecting goods from a company, they are only allowed to visit the business premises and cannot visit the company owner’s personal property (unless they have reason to believe that company assets are being stored there). The same principle applies when it comes to claiming goods. A bailiff would not be able to take anything essential from the business, or anything that stops the business from working. They also can’t claim assets which have been leased or are on hire purchase.

bailiff powers

Controlled goods agreement

HCEOs have the right to make a ‘controlled goods agreement’ (CGA) on their first visit. This is a list of items, which equal the value of the debt in question, those items are then owned by the courts. They will not be looking to remove the goods immediately, but instead looking to agree a repayment plan so that the debts can be paid off.

Once you have agreed a CGA you must not interfere with or sell any items on the inventory. If you refuse to sign or agree to a CGA the enforcement agent can remove and sell the goods immediately.

After a CGA is made, if the debt is not paid off within the agreed repayment plan, HCEOs have the right to gain entry. If you don’t let them in, they are allowed to use ‘reasonable force’ such as using a locksmith to unlock a door.

What can bailiffs do to get into a property?

When it comes to bailiffs entering a property, only those working on behalf of the courts have restricted power to enter into a building.

HCEOs do have the authority to enter your home but only under certain conditions. They cannot enter your home by force, pushing past you or breaking in through a window and are only allowed to visit a property between the hours of 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. In a situation where a HCEO can enter a premise, there must be someone aged over 16 in the building and not considered a vulnerable person, such as someone with a disability.

  • An enforcement agent must give you seven days’ notice of their impending visit
  • HCEOs do not have the power to gain forceful entry into an individual’s residential property on a first visit (breaking in through a window etc), however, they can gain peaceful entry (entering by invitation or through an open window or unlocked door).
  • HCEOs can take a controlled goods agreement from an individual’s premise, which is a list of goods they will take if the debt is not paid off. If a bailiff has a controlled goods agreement, they can then gain forceful entry on a second visit to an individual’s property.
  • They can use forceful entry to gain access to a commercial property for a business debt. Enforcement officers can also enter into a commercial premises regardless of whether it is a first-time visit.

A debt collection agent does not have the power to enter a property under any circumstances unless invited in. They have no right to gain peaceful or forceful entry or to seize goods. A collection agent must also respect your rights to privacy and they cannot attempt to collect any debts at your place of work. If you ask them to leave your property, they must do so.

HCEOs cannot enter into a premise if there are only vulnerable people, or children aged under the age of 16 there.

In summary

Only a specific type of bailiff has genuine legal powers which they can enforce if they turn up at your door. High court enforcement officers have the power to enter your premise and legally take items. These items are only allowed to be taken if all the specific procedures have first been followed.

A debt collector has no power when it comes to entering a premise and they are not allowed to do so. They also have no right to take any possessions. When it comes to dealing with bailiffs, it’s essential to ask for identification and understand who they are acting for.

How we can help

If you’re worried about impending action from bailiffs or have already encountered them, tackling the issue quickly and head on is vital. Bailiffs only have a certain amount of power when they visit, so being sure of what they can and cannot do, will allow you to handle the issue better. Importantly, we can discuss why the bailiffs are there in the first place and address the underlying troubles you may be facing; we will be able to walk you through all the options available to you.

Beverley Horton

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