Understanding the Role of High Court Enforcement Officers in the UK
If a creditor has taken legal action to force the repayment of a debt that you cannot or are unwilling to repay, they can use debt collectors, bailiffs or High Court enforcement officers to retrieve the debt on their behalf.
The end goal for debt collectors, bailiffs and high court enforcement officers are the same.
They want to force the repayment of the debt by visiting your business premises, but they have very different powers to do so.
In this guide, we’ll explain what a High Court enforcement officer is, what powers they have and what your rights are in this situation.
- What is a High Court Enforcement Officer?
- When Would a High Court Enforcement Officer be Used?
- What are the Powers and Responsibilities of High Court Enforcement Officers?
What is a High Court Enforcement Officer?
A High Court enforcement officer is a debt collector who operates in England and Wales and has been authorised by the Ministry of Justice to enforce judgements that are made in the High Court.
They can also enforce County Court Judgements (CCJs) over the value of £600. They work to ensure that a creditor whose claim is accepted by the court receives the money they are owed.
HCEOs are authorised under a High Court Writ of Control that follows the non-payment of a debt. That gives them certain powers to seize assets, repossess property and gain entry to a property during the enforcement process under the Taking Control of Goods Regulations 2013Trusted Source – Legislation- The Taking Control of Goods Regulations 2013 and the High Court Enforcement Officers Regulations 2004Trusted Source – Legislation- The High Court Enforcement Officers Regulations 2004.
An HCEO has powers over and above that of a bailiff or debt collector, but they must comply with a code of practice and professional conduct set out by the High Court Enforcement Association.
They are not permitted to enforce debts regulated by the Consumer Credit Act 1974.
When Would a High Court Enforcement Officer be Used?
Two courts are involved in the process of commercial debt recovery: the County Court, which handles lower-value claims, and the High Court, which deals with debt claims of over £50,000.
However, it is possible for debt claims that are made in the County Court to be transferred to the High Court for recovery. This is why businesses will commonly find a High Court enforcement officer at their door.
High Court enforcement officers are used to enforce County Court Judgements if the debt exceeds £5,000, and the creditor wants to reclaim the loss against the debtor’s possessions. If the debt is over £600, has not been paid, and it is not covered by the Consumer Credit Act, the creditor can also choose to transfer the debt from the County Court to the High Court. There are several reasons why a creditor would choose to escalate their claim to the High Court:
- Creditors can add 8 percent interest to the debt once it has been passed to an HCEO.
- The fees for HCEOs are much higher, which puts the debtor under more pressure to pay.
- HCEOs have greater enforcement powers than County Court bailiffs, making them more difficult to stop.
- HCEOs are employed by a private company and are paid based on the value of the debt they collect. Many creditors feel that makes them more effective than County Court bailiffs.
What are the Powers and Responsibilities of High Court Enforcement Officers?
High Court Enforcement Officers have a range of powers and responsibilities that they must exercise when enforcing High Court judgments.
They are authorised to enforce the following:
|Legal Judgments HCEOs are Authorized to Enforce||Conditions|
|High Court Writ||N/A|
|Writs of Possession, Possession and Control, Restitution, Delivery, and of Assistance||N/A|
|County Court Judgments (CCJs) valued £600 and above||Transferred to High Court for enforcement, original claim not regulated under the Consumer Credit Act 1974|
|County Court Judgments (CCJs) valued £25,000 and above||Transferred to High Court for enforcement|
|Employment Tribunal or ACAS Awards||N/A|
|High Court Possession Order or County Court Possession Order||Transferred to High Court for enforcement|
An HCEO’s powers include the following:
Taking control of goods
HCEOs can take control of goods belonging to the debtor to settle a debt. They may seize and remove the goods, store them, and sell them at public auction to recover the debt owed.
Rather than removing goods immediately, the HCEO may make an inventory and ask you to sign a controlled goods agreement. You’ll be asked to agree to a repayment plan to pay off the debt, and if you don’t keep to the payments, the HCEO will return to remove the goods and sell them to repay the debt.
HCEOs are within their rights to seize business assets (if a limited company) or business and personal assets (if a sole trader or partnership) to the value of the judgement plus interest, court fees and enforcement costs.
Enforcement of possession orders
HCEOs have the power to enforce possession orders granted by the High Court. They may use reasonable force to evict tenants who have failed to vacate the premises as ordered.
What Goods can a High Court Enforcement Officer Seize?
Business assets that can be seized by HCEOs include:
High Court enforcement officers are not permitted to take ‘tools of the trade’ worth up to £1,350 in value. These are the tools and equipment used in your trade or profession. Any equipment exceeding this value can be seized.
If the business is a limited company, a High Court enforcement officer can only take items that belong to the company and not goods that are leased or on hire-purchase agreements. A director won’t be pursued personally unless they have signed a personal guarantee for the debt that’s being enforced.
Can an HCEO enter my premises?
High Court Enforcement Officers (HCEOs) can enter your premises in certain circumstances to enforce a High Court judgment. However, this power is subject to certain conditions and limitations.
For personal premises, HCEOs may only enter your home if they have been granted a High Court Writ of Control and have previously given you notice of enforcement. The notice of enforcement will provide you with a seven-day period to pay the outstanding debt or make a suitable payment arrangement. After this period has passed, the HCEO may enter your premises to seize goods to sell at public auction to recover the debt owed.
For business premises, HCEOs may enter your premises to enforce a High Court judgment without prior notice if they have been granted a Writ of Control. This means they may enter your business premises and seize goods to sell at public auction to recover the debt owed.
It’s important to note that HCEOs may only enter business premises as long as no residential accommodation is attached and the HCEO has exhausted all other options.
If you are concerned about the actions of an HCEO or believe that they have acted unlawfully, you should seek legal advice.
Can you Stop an Enforcement Officer?
The simplest way to remove the threat of a visit from High Court enforcement officers is to repay the debt in full within seven days of receiving the Notice of Enforcement.
If you cannot afford to pay the debt in full, contact the creditor and the High Court enforcement officers before their visit to try to agree on a plan to pay the debt in instalments. If you receive a visit from an HCEO, more fees will be added to the debt, so it’s best to start making the payments as soon as possible.
If you can’t come to an arrangement and believe you have valid grounds, you could apply for a stay of execution to set the judgement aside. The court may agree to put a temporary stop on enforcement if you can show that:
- You did not know about the judgement (for example, if you changed address); and
- You have a reasonable prospect of success at defending the original claim
To apply for a High Court Writ set aside, you must download and complete form N244 from the HM Court Service website, make a witness statement and send it to the High Court in London. There is a £100 fee for making the application.
HCEO: Fees & charges for recovering a debt
If a Writ of Control is issued against you and you have no valid grounds to dispute it, you will have to pay High Court enforcement officer fees. That is in addition to the debt, court fees, and any interest due. The charges added by the High Court enforcement officers increase the further into the process you go. For that reason, if you can pay the debt, it’s beneficial to do so at your earliest opportunity.
There are four stages of the High Court enforcement procedure as set out below:
- Compliance Stage – Pay the debt in full after receiving the Notice of Enforcement and before an HCEO attends in person and you will pay £75 plus VAT in fees.
- Enforcement Stage 1 – If an HCEO attends your property. a payment plan is entered into and a controlled goods agreement is signed, the fee increases to £190 plus VAT plus 7.5% of amounts over £1,000.
- Enforcement Stage 2 – If you refuse to make the payment, enter into a controlled goods agreement or do not stick to a payment plan that you’ve already agreed, £495 plus VAT will be added to the debt.
- Sale or Disposal Stage – If goods have to be removed and sold to satisfy the debt then £525 plus VAT plus 7.5% of amounts over £1,000 will be added to the debt. Additional charges can also be added to cover the cost of locksmiths, storage and auctioneer fees.
How to deal with a High Court Enforcement Officer: Our Advice
- Verify their identity: Ask the HCEO to provide their identification and proof of their authority to act on behalf of the creditor.
- Check the validity of the judgment: Make sure the judgment is valid and the amount being claimed is correct.
- Negotiate a payment plan: If you cannot pay the total amount owed, try negotiating a payment plan with the HCEO. They may be willing to accept a reasonable payment arrangement.
- Seek legal advice: If you are unsure about your legal rights or are concerned about the actions of the HCEO, seek legal advice from a solicitor or a debt advisor.
- Complain: If you believe that the HCEO has acted unlawfully or in breach of their legal obligations, you can complain to the High Court Enforcement Officer Association (HCEOA) or the Certificated Enforcement Agents Association (CEAA).
It’s important to address the debt owed and deal with an HCEO as soon as possible. Failure to do so may result in the HCEO seizing goods to sell at public auction to recover the debt owed.
The primary sources for this article are listed below, including the relevant laws and Acts which provide their legal basis.
You can learn more about our standards for producing accurate, unbiased content in our editorial policy here.
- Trusted Source – Legislation- The Taking Control of Goods Regulations 2013
- Trusted Source – Legislation- The High Court Enforcement Officers Regulations 2004