If a creditor (the individual or business you owe money to) has taken out a High Court judgment against you, they may use High Court Enforcement Officers to help them recover the money they are owed.
Being visited by High Court Enforcement Officers can be intimidating so it’s important you know your rights, including what they can and can’t do when they knock on your door.
What is a High Court Enforcement Officer?
A High Court Enforcement Officer (HCEO) is a certificated enforcement agent that has been authorised by the Ministry of Justice to enforce High Court judgments in England and Wales.
They do this by visiting your home to seize goods that equal the value of the debt or, in extreme cases, by repossessing property.
High Court Enforcement Officers have greater powers than other court officers, such as a Family Court Bailiff or a Civilian Enforcement Officer, which means they can enforce any type of High Court judgment, including High Court Writs, Writs of Possession, and Writs of Control. A County Court Judgment can also be transferred to the High Court if it is worth more than £600 including court fees.
High Court Enforcement Officers can also enforce debts that aren’t covered by the Consumer Credit Act 1974, including unpaid nursery fees, funeral charges, and water charges.
If you can come to an agreement to repay the debt in regular instalments, goods won’t be seized.
However, failure to come to an agreement during their first visit to your home or stick to the terms of the agreement will give them the right to remove items to sell at auction at a later date.
Is a High Court Enforcement Officer the same as a County Court Enforcement Officer?
Though they share similar names, there are several differences between a High Court Enforcement Officer and a County Court Enforcement Officer or County Court Bailiff.
For example, County Court Enforcement Officers can only enforce County Court Judgments under £600 while High Court Enforcement Officers can enforce higher-value judgments issued by the High Court.
County Court Bailiffs are also classed as civil servants while High Court Enforcement Officers tend to work for private companies.
This makes HCEOs more effective at recovering high-value debts on behalf of their clients.
Certificated Enforcement Agents also differ from High Court Enforcement Officers in that they tend to be used mainly by local authorities and landlords.
Can High Court Enforcement Officers force entry?
High Court Enforcement Officers will visit your home with the aim of recovering goods that equal the value of the debt owed but they are prohibited from forcing entry on their first visit.
This means they can’t push past you, climb through a window or skylight, or put a foot in the doorway to stop you from closing it.
In most cases, they must also explain who they are and why they are visiting your address.
However, if they listed goods for sale in a controlled goods agreement during a previous visit, they may force entry in an attempt to recover the money that you agreed to pay.
High Court Enforcement Officers can also force entry to collect certain debts, including debts owed to HMRC, such as income tax, and unpaid criminal fines, such as unpaid TV license payments.
The rules also differ when it comes to commercial premises. For example, if you run your own business, High Court Enforcement Officers can secure a warrant to use force to break into your business premises in the event you don’t let them in.
What items can a High Court Enforcement Officer take?
There is a common misconception that enforcement officers have permission to take as many items as they like as long as it equals the total value of the debt but this isn’t quite true.
High Court Enforcement Officers can only seize items that can be classed as assets, including vehicles, jewellery, stock, equipment, or any other goods owned by you and you alone.
Items that are fully or partially owned by someone else living at the address or that are deemed essential to maintain an essential standard of living or for work can’t be seized.
This includes bedding, clothing, furniture, and foodstuffs.
Similarly, assets that are currently under a hire purchase (HP) agreement or that are leased by the debtor, such as cars or white goods, can’t be seized by enforcement agents because they weren’t purchased outright and therefore can’t be resold at auction.
The rules also differ slightly for people that are self-employed. If you own your own business, tools needed to run your company worth up to a total of £1,350 are strictly off limits. This could be anything from books to machinery.
Why would a creditor use a High Court Enforcement Officer to recover a debt?
Creditors may use a High Court Enforcement Officer instead of a County Court Enforcement Officer to recover a debt for several reasons.
They can add interest
Once a debt has been passed to an HCEO, a creditor can then add 8% interest on the original debt. Because HCEO fees are higher, this can put further pressure on the debtor to pay which can increase the creditor’s chances of recovering the money they are owed.
Creditors can also recover enforcement fees and court fees when they use an HCEO to recover a debt on their behalf.
They will push to get collect the debt
Typically, High Court Enforcement Officers will push harder to collect the debt because they have more power than County Court Enforcement Officers. This also means they can be harder to stop once they have started trying to recover the debt.
They are paid based on results
Most HCEOs are hired by a private company and are paid based on the amount of debt they recover. Because of this, they might act quickly and have been known to resort to aggressive tactics to ensure they get paid.