The Job and What's Involved

A bailiff is responsible for the collection of debt through the enforcement of court orders.

In England and Wales, there are two main types of bailiff.

High Court enforcement officers and civil servants are employed as court service bailiffs. They deliver documents, referred to as summonses, to houses and businesses, and enforce court judgements. They are concerned with aspects of civil law involving property, debt recovery and consumer dispute.

Private or certificated bailiffs work for independent companies. A certificated bailiff can enforce the recovery of rent, council tax and parking fines. Private bailiffs recover debts for various clients, such as banks, solicitors, loan companies, utility companies, local authorities and finance companies.

A bailiff's day-to-day duties may include:

  • Writing letters to debtors requesting payment.
  • Working with debtors and assisting them with a plan to pay in installments.
  • Formally delivering court papers to debtors.
  • Collecting money and estimating the value of goods owned by the debtor.
  • Repossession of goods, for example a car, where the owner has failed to keep up loan repayments.
  • Arranging for goods to be sold off at auction.
  • Evicting occupants, changing locks and boarding up properties.
  • Recording details of money taken or items seized.
  • Taking responsibility for money received.

Bailiffs must adhere to strict guidelines regarding what they can and cannot do, for example they must not seize the tools of a person's trade or use force to enter homes.

In Scotland, bailiffs are known as sheriff officers in the regional civil courts and messengers-at-arms in the Court of Session. They are employed in private business partnerships with fees charged being regulated by statute. Sheriff officers hold a 'commission' to work in a particular region, while messengers-at-arms can travel anywhere in Scotland to enforce orders of the Court of Session.

Bailiffs work 37 to 40 hours a week. They need to be flexible in the hours they work in order to make direct contact with people at home before they leave for work, or when they return home. Early morning and evening work is common. They may work alone (on smaller cases) or in teams. There are opportunities for part-time work.

Bailiffs are office-based, but spend a large percentage of their time traveling and visiting debtors. Smart business dress is usual. The work may involve lifting and removing goods.

Trainee or uncertificated bailiffs may earn up to £12,000 a year. Pay structures vary widely. Some private firms pay a basic salary, plus a performance-related commission. Civil servants may receive a London allowance.

Getting Started with this Career Choice

In England and Wales, bailiffs are employed by private companies, or as civil servants employed by Her Majesty's Courts Service (HMCS). There are job opportunities in cities and large towns. The outlook for bailiffs is very stable and there are opportunities to work on a self-employed basis.

In Scotland it is necessary to get a trainee post with a firm of sheriff officers and interested applicants are advised to write directly to firms to express an interest.

Jobs for private bailiffs are advertised in national and local papers and on vacancy websites. Vacancies for court service bailiffs are advertised on the HMCS website -

Education and Training

No formal entry qualifications are required. Employers look for basic numeracy and good communication skills and may expect a minimum of five GCSE's (A*-C), including English and maths. Normal Civil Service recruitment procedures apply to candidates for bailiff positions in the courts service.

Employers require applicants to show that they do not have a debt or criminal record and will require a County Court Judgment (CCJ) check and checks through the Criminal Records Bureau/Disclosure Scotland. A driving licence is essential.

To become a certificated bailiff, an applicant needs to:

  • Satisfy a county court judge that they do not hold a criminal record, are a fit and proper person to hold a certificate and have sufficient knowledge of the law.
  • Provide two references.
  • Pay a security bond of £10,000, which may be used to pay compensation if a judge finds that the bailiff has acted unlawfully.

In Scotland, to be commissioned, an applicant needs to be 20 years or over, with at least three years' training. They must also pass the Society of Messengers-at-Arms and Sheriff Officers professional exam.

A Few More Exams You Might Need

In England and Wales, training is mainly on the job and varies widely between employers. There may be opportunities to attend short courses on specific aspects of the work, such as conflict resolution, in order to progress in the role. Employers may actively encourage progression towards certification and include training to help bailiffs obtain the Bailiff's General Certificate.

Bailiffs can become members of the Enforcement Services Association (ESA). They must pass the ESA's written examination, based on the Institute of Revenues Rating and Valuation's textbook Distress of Local Taxation and Rent, and are required to comply with the ESA code of practice.

Bailiffs can also join the Association of Civil Enforcement Agencies (ACEA). They must satisfy the Association that they have received adequate training or sufficient experience as a certificated bailiff with a recognised company who will support their application. They must also comply with the ACEA code of practice.

In Scotland, sheriff officers undertake a period of training under an appointed sheriff officer. Training is on the job and through attending comprehensive training courses designed to cover the legislation surrounding the duties. This normally takes three years.

Qualified sheriff officers can continue with their training and development and, after at least two years' experience as a qualified sheriff officer, can take a further professional exam and apply to be commissioned as a messenger-of-arms.

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Skills and Personal Qualities Needed

A bailiff should:

  • Have excellent communication skills.
  • Be able to deal discretely with a variety of people.
  • Be assertive and persuasive.
  • Understand and act within the law.
  • Be able to cope with threatening behaviour towards them.
  • Be able to use their initiative.
  • Have good negotiating skills.
  • Be commercially minded and able to assess the value of goods.
  • Be able to put together a repayment plan.
  • Be organised and keep accurate records.
  • Have good numeracy skills.
  • Have computer skills.
  • Be physically fit to cope with lifting and removing goods.

Your Long Term Prospects

There are various promotional opportunities. Civil servants may be promoted to bailiff manager, move sideways into another Civil Service function or move into the private sector.

In private companies, promotion is usually to senior bailiff, assistant manager and then manager.

Get Further Information

Her Majesty's Courts Service (HMCS),
Clive House, Petty France, London SW1H 9HD
Tel: 020 7189 2000

Institute of Revenues Rating and Valuations (IRRV),
41 Doughty Street, London WC1N 2LF
Tel: 020 7831 3505

Society of Messengers-at-Arms and Sheriff Officers,
11 Alva Street, Edinburgh EH2 4PH
Tel: 0131 225 9110

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