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23/10/2018

High Court Enforcement Officers

23/10/2018

High Court Enforcement Officers

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If you live in England or Wales, one of your creditors could hold a High Court Judgment or a County Court Judgment (CCJ) against you. In these cases, it’s then possible that they will hire a High Court enforcement officer (HCEO) to collect the debt for them.

This is often done because the company no longer have the time or resources to chase you for the debt.

What is a High Court enforcement officer?

High court enforcement officers are a type of bailiff, so they’ll visit your home to try to collect payment. If you don’t come to an agreement, then they will remove items to be sold at auction to cover the balance.

A HCEO works in a very similar way to a County Court bailiff. They have to provide 7 days notice of their first visit and when they visit your home (or business premises if you are self-employed) they will ask you to pay the debt in full.

If you are not able to do this, they will then make a list of the goods that they will seize and sell if you do not stick to the payment plan agreed.

They will normally allow you to keep hold of the goods as long as you are making payments towards the debt. If you don’t comply with the payment plan or fail to make the payments the HCEO will return to remove the controlled goods in order to sell them.

HCEOs are also considered much more difficult to stop once they have commenced action.

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Why would a creditor use a High Court enforcement officer?

The High Court is one of the two main civil courts that deal with non-criminal cases, usually involving financial claims. The High Court handles cases involving larger financial claims and the County Court handles cases of smaller financial claims.

If a CCJ is for a debt that’s more than £5000 and the company wants to reclaim the loss against the debtor’s possessions, then the case must be transferred to the High Court and the recovery will be managed and carried out by a HCEO.

Smaller cases relating toabove £600 can also be transferred from the County Court to the High Court as HCEOs have greater powers than those of County Court bailiff. HCEOs are also paid depending on their results, and so are generally highly motivated and considered more effective.

As well as this, a creditor can add an additional 8% interest to the debt being recovered once it has been transferred to a HCEO for recuperation.

This makes the fees charged by a HCEO higher than a County Court bailiff, and additional costs can put you under a lot more pressure to meet the terms and conditions of the plan set out to pay it back.

What can High Court Enforcement Officers do?

A HCEO holds specific permission from the Ministry of Justice to enforce judgments known as High Court Writs.

  • A HCEO can execute High Court Writs and Writs of Possession, Possession and Control, Restitution, Delivery and of Assistance.
  • A HCEO can execute CCJs holding a value of £600 and above as long as the claim was not regulated under the Consumer Credit Act 1974. If the debt is over £25,000 this restriction does not apply.
  • A HCEO can execute an Employment Tribunal or ACAS Award.
  • A HCEO can execute High Court Possession orders or County Court Possession orders transferred to the High Court.

The Writ of Control ordered by the High Court gives power to the HCEO to contact and visit the debtor to collect payment or to have the debtor agree to a payment plan.

The HCEO is permitted to take control of the debtor’s assets in order to have them removed and sold at auction to provide payment towards the debt where the debtor has failed to make payments or has not agreed to a suitable payment plan.

How do High Court Enforcement Officers get involved?

There is a process for HCEOs to get involved. The creditor in question will firstly need to apply for a “writ of control”, which essentially gives the officer permission to visit your home and collect payment or seize your belongings.

However, they cannot show up with no warning. You’ll be sent a notice of enforcement letter to notify you of their visit at least seven days before they are due to visit.

When they do come, they’ll usually ask you to pay the debt in full, and if you aren’t able to do this then they will look to take your belongings. If you’re self-employed, then it’s also possible that they’ll visit you whilst at work or at your place of business.

If they are to take control of your possessions, they will do this by making a list of any valuable items that they plan to remove. The rules as far as what they can and cannot take are the same as any other kind of bailiff.

They will usually let you keep the goods, however, if you make a payment plan with them to clear the debt, also known as a controlled goods agreement.

In some cases, they will take items straight away; usually when they come across larger valuables such as a car or if they things you will get rid of/sell goods before paying the debt owed. This often also involves them putting a clamp on your car to stop you driving it.

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Can a High Court enforcement officer break into my house?

Whilst they can try to enter your home to attempt to look for items to take, HCEOs cannot force their way in on their first visit. They cannot use force to push past you, use physical force to prevent you closing the door on them, nor can they climb through an open window or skylight.

If it’s not their first visit to your home, however, and they’re looking to collect items listed in a controlled goods agreement, then force can be used if you don’t pay.

Moreover, if they visit you at your business premises, the rules are different, and they are allowed to use force to break into the property if you refuse to let them in. The officers are expected, however, to give you a reasonable amount of time to allow peaceable entry.

If a HCEO needs to use forced entry to carry out his operations, then they must re-secure the property to the same standard prior to making the forced entry. If the property contains both commercial and residential premises, then the HSEO must treat the premises as a residential property and acquire peaceful entry before being permitted to use force to gain access to either area on subsequent visits.

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What can a high court enforcement officer take?

Items that can be considered assets and that may be taken include any vehicles, equipment, jewellery, stock or other goods that you own. They can only take items owned by you, meaning they cannot any items owned by anyone else living in the same property.

A HCEO is also not able to take any items that are deemed essential for a basic standard of living. This includes such things as bedding, furniture and clothing. This is also the case for any foodstuffs, plants or flowers.

If you’re self-employed, a HCEO cannot take any tools that you need to operate your business up to the value of £1,350. This includes tools, vehicles, books, computers and other items that are solely used for business operation.

Lastly, a HCEO cannot take any goods or assets that are under a hire purchase agreement or that are leased or rented to the defendant. These are not classed as items that you own outright and therefore are not cannot be taken to be sold at auction. This includes all leased cars or white goods such as your fridge or washing machine.

What fees can High Court enforcement officers charge?

Unfortunately, if your debt has reached the enforcement stage then all agents will add fees to your existing balance. However, the ones charged by HCEOs are usually higher than most as they are set by law.

You’ll be charged £75 just for the sending of your notice of enforcement letter. They then add £190 + 7.5% of the balance over £1,000 on their first visit.

If you don’t make any arrangement to pay back what you owe, then £495 will be added to your balance. This is also the case if you make an arrangement but then fail to stick to it.

In cases where the officers have to come back a second time to collect goods, then you’ll see £525 + 7.5% of the balance over £1,000. Moreover, should goods be taken, you’ll be charged for any storage or auction fees.

What should I do if I’m contacted by a High Court Enforcement Officer?

How you handle the situation when you’re contacted by a HCEO will depend on your situation. This will understandably be a stressful time, but it’s important to deal with it as soon as possible.

If you can afford to pay the debt in full at the time of your notice of enforcement, then you should do so straight away. That way, you’ll be able to keep any additional costs to a minimum.

Otherwise, you’ll need to make an offer to pay back what you owe in instalments. To do this you’ll need to send it in writing to both the creditor and the HCEO.

It’s important to also send a copy of your income and expenditure as evidence of your affordability. Once you have done this, you should start making payments at your offered rate, even if they haven’t agreed yet.

Should they refuse what you offer, then you may need to try and increase what you can pay. This is especially important if they have already visited you and created a controlled goods agreement.

How can I stop High Court enforcement officers?

For those who aren’t able to come to an agreement with the HCEOs, it is possible to apply to the court for a ‘stay of execution’, which still stop any action against you.

However, this is a lot harder than stopping County Court bailiffs – who usually collect CCJs – and the court won’t necessarily agree to this.

If you’ve been contacted by High Court enforcement officers, call us today on 0808 2234 102 for free and confidential advice. We can work through your debts from the moment you contact us and find a solution that works for you, regardless of your situation.