A High Court writ is a formal document issued by the High Court of Justice in the United Kingdom, signifying a legal judgment or order. If your business finds itself on the receiving end of such a writ, it’s crucial to understand both its implications and the steps you should take in response.

Typically, a company has seven days from the notice of enforcement to pay the debt or make a payment arrangement before HCEOs proceed with seizing assets.

In this guide, I will explain what a High Court Writ is, the powers it gives to High Court enforcement officers, and explore your best options for dealing with it.

Here at Company Debt, our licensed insolvency practitioners have helped thousands of UK directors navigate business debt.

High Court Writ

What is a High Court Writ?

A High Court Writ, when applied to a limited company, is a formal legal document issued by the High Court of Justice in England and Wales, compelling the company to pay a debt it owes. Specifically, for limited companies, this usually involves the enforcement of a judgment or order concerning commercial debts.

When a limited company is unable to settle its debts, and a creditor obtains a judgment against it, the creditor may apply for a High Court Writ, typically a Writ of Control, to enforce the debt. This writ authorises High Court Enforcement Officers (HCEOs) to enter the company’s premises to collect the amount owed or seize company assets equivalent to the value of the debt, including costs associated with the enforcement process.

For limited companies, the implications of a High Court Writ are particularly significant. Not only does it indicate a serious level of debt escalation, but it also exposes the company’s assets to seizure and public auction. Moreover, the enforcement process can disrupt the company’s operations and potentially damage its reputation.

How is a High Court Writ obtained against a company?

A creditor must first obtain a judgment against the company. If the company fails to satisfy the judgment, the creditor can apply for a High Court Writ, enabling enforcement action.

What is the High Court Writ Process?

High Court Writs are used by creditors to enforce unpaid County Court Judgements (CCJs).

The process involves the following steps:

  1. Filing a Claim: A creditor begins by submitting a claim form to the High Court. This form must detail the nature of the claim and the type of relief or enforcement being sought.
  2. Judicial Review: Upon receipt of the claim form, a High Court judge reviews the details of the case. The judge’s role is to assess the validity and merits of the claim, ultimately deciding whether to approve the issuance of the writ.
  3. Issuance and Service of the Writ: If the judge approves the writ, it is then formally issued and served on the business. This can be done through a professional process server or via postal service, ensuring that the business is officially notified of the action.
  4. Response Period: After the writ is served, the business is given a specified period to respond to the claim. This is the debtor’s opportunity to settle the debt, challenge the claim, or take other legal actions.
  5. Enforcement: Should the business fail to settle the debt within the allotted time after receiving the court’s order, the creditor is entitled to request the High Court’s intervention. At this point, the court may authorise bailiffs, specifically High Court Enforcement Officers (HCEOs), to recover the owed funds directly.
  6. Duration: The entire process, from filing the claim to the issuance of the writ, typically spans between 7 to 28 days, depending on the complexity of the case and the court’s schedule.

This structured approach ensures that creditors have a legal pathway to pursue outstanding debts, while also providing businesses with the opportunity to respond and settle their liabilities in a fair and regulated manner.

What can High Court Enforcement Officers (HCEOs) do upon receiving a Writ of Control?

CEOs have the authority to enter the company’s premises to search for and seize goods, demand payment, and, if necessary, sell the seized assets at auction to recover the owed amount.

>>Read our full article on the powers of HCEOs

Can I Stop a High Court Writ?  

If you’ve received a high court writer, immediate action is advised. This can include paying the debt in full, negotiating a payment arrangement with the creditor, or seeking legal advice to explore other options

Here are a few ways that a business in the United Kingdom may be able to stop a high court writ:

  1. Settling the case: One option is to try to settle with the other party through direct negotiation, mediation, or arbitration. If the parties can agree, the writ can be withdrawn.
  2. Defending against the claim: If the business believes the claim is without merit, it can defend itself in court by filing a defence and possibly counterclaiming against the other party. If the business successfully defends itself, the writ will be dismissed.
  3. Applying to set aside or suspend the writ: If the business believes that the writ was issued improperly or that there are other legal grounds for challenging it, it may be able to apply to set aside the writ. This will require the business to make a legal argument as to why the writ should be set aside. download and complete form N244 from the HM Court Service website, make a witness statement and send it off to the High Court in London along with a £100 fee to apply for a stay of execution. You will need evidence to show that you didn’t know about the judgement or a reasonable prospect of defending the original claim.
  4. Pay off the debt – To prevent the High Court Writ from progressing further, you could pay off the debt in full or contact the creditor and the enforcement officers to arrange a payment plan. Doing this before the seven-day notice period is up will reduce the charges you pay. 
  5. Explore your finance options – If you cannot afford to repay the debt in full or negotiate an acceptable payment plan, you may need to seek alternative ways to free up the cash to pay off the debt. Finance options such as asset-based lending and invoice finance could allow you to release some of the value from business assets to enable you to make the payment.
  6. Propose a Company Voluntary Arrangement (CVA) – If you cannot repay the debt all at once or agree to an affordable payment plan and are unable to access external finance, you could propose a Company Voluntary Arrangement. A CVA is a legally binding agreement to repay all of the company’s debts via a single monthly payment for up to five years. This will have to be agreed upon with the company’s creditors as a whole and not just the creditor who has issued the High Court Writ.   

What happens if the company’s assets are insufficient to cover the debt?

If your company’s assets don’t cover the debt after a High Court Writ enforcement, the outstanding balance remains. Creditors might pursue further actions to recover this.

In such cases, facing potential insolvency proceedings can be a real concern. It’s crucial to address these issues head-on. For directors, seeking expert advice early can make a significant difference. Contacting a professional advisory service like Company Debt can provide you with the guidance and support needed to navigate these complex situations.

FAQs about High Court Writs

Yes, in certain circumstances, HCEOs can use reasonable force to enter commercial premises to enforce a High Court Writ, especially if previous attempts to recover the debt have been ignored.

Yes, HCEOs cannot seize goods essential for the company’s day-to-day operations, such as tools or equipment necessary for up to a certain value, or items that are not owned by the company.

Yes, the enforcement of a High Court Writ, along with the preceding legal judgment, can negatively impact a company’s credit rating and its ability to secure future credit or contracts.

In addition to the original debt amount, companies are liable for enforcement costs, including court fees, HCEO fees, and costs associated with selling seized assets.

No, personal assets of directors are generally protected in the case of limited companies, unless personal guarantees have been provided for the company’s debts.