What is a High Court Enforcement Officer and what rights do they have 

High Court Enforcement Officers (HCEOs) enforce judgments from the High Court and, in some instances, County Court Judgments (CCJs). Operating in England and Wales, they typically seize assets or repossess property under the Taking Control of Goods Regulations, 2013.

HCEOs receive authorisation from the High Court through a Writ of Control when a debt remains unpaid, granting certain entry rights during the enforcement process. While HCEOs are occasionally mistaken for bailiffs, there are notable distinctions in their authority.

In what situations might an HCEO be summoned for enforcement action?


Powers and Actions of High Court Enforcement Officers in Enforcing Judgments

HCEOs have the authority to seize goods or possessions equivalent to the unpaid judgment value. Additionally, they may try to seize goods to cover enforcement costs, court fees, and debt interest.

A seven-day notice precedes a visit, and if payment or a repayment plan isn’t agreed upon, officers can promptly seize and auction goods to benefit the creditor.

Initially, HCEOs create an inventory of potential seized goods. If you agree to an instalment plan but miss a payment, they can return to seize goods from the inventory equal to the missed amount.


When might a High Court Enforcement Officer be assigned?

A High Court Enforcement Officer may enforce a County Court judgment (CCJ) if the debt, not covered by the Consumer Credit Act, amounts to £600 or more, and remains unpaid.

In High Court judgments, creditors can promptly seek a Writ of Control unless there’s an application for a ‘stay of execution.’ Business and trade creditors often opt for this enforcement route, citing clear reasons such as the debt’s size or the overall complexity of the situation.

If you’ve received communication from the High Court about potential enforcement for an unpaid court judgment, it’s crucial to know the actions High Court Enforcement Officers can take.


The Rights of High Court Enforcement Officers

While HCEOs can’t force entry into your home without prior access permission, they do have the right to enter your business premises if there’s no residential component.

Advance notice of an HCEO visit is standard, and they must leave the premises securely. Despite their authority, High Court Enforcement Officers adhere to strict legislation. The national standards for Taking Control of Goods emphasise that ‘Enforcement agents must not be deceitful by misrepresenting their powers, qualifications, capacities, experience or abilities…’

Understanding your rights and seeking professional advice is crucial. Now, what goods and possessions can HCEOs take from your business premises under the Taking Control of Goods Regulations, 2013?


Seizing Control: The Goods Subject to Seizure

As a director of a limited company, only the company’s belongings can be taken. However, if you’re a sole trader, your business isn’t a distinct legal entity, putting your personal possessions at risk as well.

Some goods are exempt from seizure, such as:

  • Perishable goods.
  • Hired or leased goods under certain arrangements.
  • Tools of the trade valued up to £1,350—tools beyond this value may be seized.
  • Items belonging to third parties—proof, like a credit agreement or receipt, is necessary. Without proof, a ‘statutory declaration’ stating the goods aren’t yours can be made.

Commonly seized items in High Court enforcement encompass:

  • Stock
  • Furniture
  • Machinery and equipment
  • Business vehicles
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Guidelines for Dealing with High Court Enforcement Officers

If reaching a repayment agreement with HCEOs is not feasible and full payment is beyond your means, you might be eligible to apply for a stay of execution. This court-approved arrangement enables you to settle the debt through instalments.

If you’ve received a Writ of Control or seek more information about High Court Enforcement Officers’ rights, Vanguard Insolvency provides the professional advice you require.

We assist in managing interactions with HCEOs and, if applicable, help in applying for a stay of execution. Connect with one of our licensed insolvency practitioners for a free same-day consultation. With 100 offices across the UK, expert and confidential advice is always accessible.

David Jackson MD
Senior Partner at Vanguard Insolvency Practitioners | Website

I am an insolvency professional with a distinguished career specialising in commercial insolvency, adeptly navigating Creditors Voluntary Liquidation, Company Voluntary Arrangements, and Company Administrations. With a comprehensive understanding of insolvency laws and an unwavering commitment to ethical practices.