You can apply to have a bailiffs warrant suspended to stop eviction from a council home. A county court usually has the power to stop bailiffs evicting council tenants.
Get urgent advice if you are a council tenant facing eviction by bailiffs.
Call the Civil Legal Advice helpline on 0345 345 4 345. You may be able to get help from a legal aid lawyer if you claim certain benefits or have a low income.
Have the papers you received from the court with you when you speak to an adviser.
When bailiffs can evict you
Only court bailiffs are allowed to evict you from your home.
Before this can happen, the council must take you to court, get a possession order and then apply for a warrant for possession. This is also called a bailiff's warrant. This allows the bailiffs to evict you.
The council can apply to the court for a warrant for possession if the court made:
- an outright order for possession and you stayed beyond the date the court ordered you to leave
- a suspended possession order but you broke the conditions set by the court
The courts can make a suspended possession order to allow you to pay off your rent arrears in weekly instalments.
When the court can't stop the bailiffs
Subletting your home
The court can't stop the bailiffs if the council takes you to court because you rented out all your home.
The court can't stop the bailiffs if a court made a possession order on a mandatory ground.
Antisocial behaviour is an example of a mandatory ground for eviction.
The council may decide to apply to the court to evict you using the mandatory ground for antisocial behaviour if you or a member of your household have been convicted in the courts of an antisocial behaviour offence.
It is unusual for a council to use a mandatory ground when taking a tenant to court.
When the court can stop the bailiffs
A court can decide to stop the bailiffs evicting you from your council tenancy if the council took you to court to evict you on a discretionary ground.
Most council tenants are taken to court on discretionary grounds such as rent arrears.
The usual way for the court to stop the bailiffs is by suspending the bailiffs' warrant. The bailiffs can't evict you if a court decides to suspend a bailiffs' warrant.
In some cases, the court may also need to change the terms of a court order that was previously made. For example, the court may change the terms of a suspended possession order to allow you to pay off your rent arrears at a lower weekly rate or to give you time to sort out housing benefit problems.
The court can stop the bailiffs if it decides it is reasonable to do so in the circumstances.
What the court can decide
The court can decide to postpone the bailiffs for a short period while you try to put things right. For example, the court could allow you a month to sort out your housing benefit problems before making a final decision on whether to stop your eviction.
The court can stop the bailiffs coming as long as you comply with certain conditions. This could include paying an amount each week towards your rent arrears as well as keeping up with the rent. If you don't keep to these conditions, you could find yourself facing eviction by the bailiffs again.
The court can also decide to let the eviction go ahead.
If the court made a possession order for a mandatory ground such as serious antisocial behaviour, the court can't stop the eviction but may delay it for a very short period.
What you can ask the court to do
Apply to suspend the bailiffs warrant
You must apply to the court using form N244.
There is a fee of £50. You may not have to pay this if you claim certain benefits or have a low income. See court leaflet EX160A for details.
Explain on the form that you want the bailiffs' warrant to be suspended and your reasons why it should be. For example, explain why you weren't able to stick with the conditions set out on the original court order and why you will be able to in the future.
Apply for a possession order to be changed
When you apply for the bailiff's warrant to be suspended, you may also need to ask the court to vary the possession order. This means you are asking the court to:
- change the conditions set out in a suspended possession order such as reducing the amount you have to pay each week to bring down your rent arrears
- change an outright possession order to a suspended possession order
Do this on the same form N244.
Apply to delay eviction by bailiffs
The court can sometimes delay eviction by bailiffs for a short time even if it can't stop the eviction.
Apply to the court using form N244 to ask for the bailiffs to be delayed.
The court will only do this if you would suffer exceptional hardship and you didn't tell the court about this before.
The maximum delay is 6 weeks. This runs from the date the court made the possession order telling you to leave. For example, if 3 weeks have already passed by the time you apply to the court, you can only ask the court to delay your eviction for a further 3 weeks.
How to persuade the court to stop the bailiffs
There will be a short court hearing to decide whether to stop the bailiffs. This could be on the same day that you make your application.
At the court, you must explain to the judge why it would be reasonable to stop the eviction.
Telling the judge you will be homeless is not enough. The judge wants to hear reasons connected to the reason why you are being evicted. Take any evidence you have to show why, for example, you couldn't make all your rent payments before, but that you can from now on.
The judge will decide to stop the bailiffs if they think it is reasonable to do so.
How to ask the council to stop the bailiffs
Contact your housing office to see if they will let you stay.
Your housing officer might agree that you do not have to be evicted if your situation has changed. For example, you can now show that you can pay off your rent arrears or a family member who was causing problems with antisocial behaviour now lives somewhere else.
Get any agreement in writing if you can.
Don't assume the bailiffs won't come just because your housing officer says you can stay. Check with the court that the bailiffs' visit is cancelled.
Sometimes your housing officer may say that they will not challenge your application to stop the bailiffs. You must still apply to the court to stop the eviction.
If the bailiffs' visit isn't cancelled or your housing officer doesn't agree to tell the court to stop the bailiffs, you'll have to apply to the court to suspend the bailiffs' warrant using court form N244.
Costs and charges
You have to pay your rent or use and occupation charges until you move out or are evicted. If you claim housing benefit, payments should continue until you actually leave.
You may also have to pay the council's court fees, including the costs of applying for bailiffs to evict you. This is usually added to your rent account.
Unless you claim certain benefits or have a low income, you have to pay a fee to apply to the court to stop the bailiffs coming.
Find out more from HM Courts and Tribunals about court fees.