Bailiffs and enforcement officers are officers of the court, and their job is to seize property. Bailiffs in the County Court are civil servants. By contrast, the High Court uses “enforcement officers” who are self-employed.

Private companies may also employ people who are popularly known as ‘bailiffs’, whose job is to try to recover good or assets discharging alleged debts. If such people are acting purely on behalf of private companies in the absence of a court order, they enjoy none of the powers of entry enjoyed by the bailiffs or enforcement officers who act to enforce orders on behalf of the courts.

Courts can make a variety of orders enforceable by their bailiffs and enforcement officers. Consequently, the rights of those officers to enter your home are complex and will depend on the order made by the court. In virtually all cases they are entitled to enter your home, but only in a few cases, such as eviction orders , are they entitled to break down external doors or force their way in. They can, however, climb through unlocked windows and break down internal doors and may put pressure on you to invite them in.

If they are employed by the court following a judgment debt they can seize any goods or possessions belonging to the debtor but cannot seize anything needed personally for his or her job – for instance, tools, books and vehicles – or used for basic needs – clothing, bedding, furniture, household equipment and food. Thus they can take stereo equipment, televisions, video recorders etc. Court bailiffs cannot seize property belonging to people other than the debtor. The goods are then usually impounded for a short period - five days - before being sold by auction.

Often, if there is a responsible member of the household, the bailiff or enforcement officer will agree to leave the goods on the premises until the bailiff has sold them. This is known as taking walking possession. If walking possession has been taken, then they may subsequently break locks to gain access to the house to take full possession of the goods, though if an amicable agreement to take walking possession was reached, this will often not be necessary.

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