Quick guide: bailiffs, enforcement officers, High Court enforcement officers

Since the 2007, the term bailiff has been replaced by ‘enforcement officer’ or sometimes, ‘enforcement agent’.  These terms are often used interchangeably.  However, you could also receive communication from a High Court enforcement officer (HCEO).  HCEOs operate slightly differently from bailiffs or enforcement officers, so we discuss the differences below, and what the potential impact of dealing with each might be for you as a business owner.


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Enforcement officers (EO)

Enforcement officers (EO) are legally authorised to collect debts on behalf of the county courts and other creditors. They are also entitled to take control of and remove and/or sell goods to repay debts.

You can find more details regarding which goods EOs can and can’t take control of here.  However, enforcement officers can ONLY be used to collect debts for unpaid:

  • council tax and business rates
  • county court judgements (CCJs)
  • high court judgements
  • magistrates’ court fines and compensation orders
  • income tax, national insurance and VAT
  • business rent
  • parking penalties

EOs may work for the courts directly, or be employed by civil enforcement agencies and they must undergo training and hold appropriate certification.

If you receive a visit from an EO, and you are in any doubt about their credentials, you should be able to find them entered on the Ministry of Justice register of all certificated enforcement agents. You are entitled to ask to see their professional identification.tieslong

High Court enforcement officers (HCEO)

In the High Court, bailiffs are known as High Court enforcement officers (HCEO).  Any judgment that concerns a debt of £5,000 or more will be automatically transferred to the High Court for enforcement (providing it is not regulated by the Consumer Credit Act 1974).

Any judgment that concerns a debt of £600 or less is always enforced by the county courts. However, a judgment that has been made in the county court can also be passed to the High Court for enforcement if it concerns an amount over £600.  In such cases, it is up to the claimant which court is used.

HCEOs and County Court enforcement officers operate slightly differently, so we’ve outlined some of the main differences in the table below.  Potentially, the main difference to you as a business owner or sole trader is likely to concern fees and success rates.

Essentially, HCEOs are not employed by the courts, unlike county court EOs.  This means that HCEOs only get paid according to their success rates, which tends to make them more effective!  It also means that they pass their costs to you directly, on top of the original judgment debt and the court fees.  For example, if they have to visit you more than once, they will charge you accordingly. They are also entitled to charge interest, currently set at 8%.

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At a glance: EOs Vs HCEOs

County Court Enforcement Officers

High Court Enforcement Officers

  • Enforces ALL judgments less than £600, can also enforce judgments up to £5000
  • Enforces ALL judgments over £5000. Can also enforce judgments from the county court of over £600 (cannot enforce judgments under £600)
  • Claimant must apply for Warrant of Execution to enforce county court judgment – this is usually quite quick to obtain, cost to claimant is £110
  • Claimant can pay £66 court fee to move CCJ enforcement up to a HCEO. This  paperwork may take 5 to 21 days to authorise but is cheaper and provides certain benefits in terms of enforcement.
  • Will expect to collect the judgment debt, court costs, £110 Warrant of Execution costs, interest if prescribed
  • Will expect to collect the judgment debt, court costs, £66 transfer fee, HCEO fees, costs and charges potentially plus interest at 8% – if the HCEO has to visit you more than once, their fees will raise accordingly
  • Salaried; employed by the Court Service, so will be paid regardless of success
  • Employed by private companies, or Self-employed, therefore only paid if successful at recovering debts. Tends to have much higher success rate
  • EO Required to provide 7-day Notice of Enforcement following Writ of Execution
  • EO required to provide 7-day Notice of Enforcement once Writ of Control is issued
  • HCEOs can work anywhere in England & Wales
  • Can force entry into commercial premises provided there is no residential accommodation attached

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Are you worried about a notice of enforcement or a visit from an EO?

It is often the case that the most practical step for business owners upon receipt of a notice of enforcement or a visit from an EO, is to make an initial agreement with the EO regarding the debt. If you can’t pay the debt in full, this may mean agreeing to make payments by installments, according to what you can reasonably manage.  Coming to some agreement with the EO and dealing with the immediate problem in front of you is however likely to be your best way forward.

If your business is struggling with multiple debts and enforcement action is a symptom of a much larger problem, once you have dealt with this immediate concern, you can seek advice and a longer-term strategy for dealing with larger problem.

If you have debts and/ or tax arrears and you are concerned about your business’ overall financial health, it is worth getting advice.  Have a look at these helpful topics:

Alternatively, if you have any questions, don’t hesitate to contact one of our business recovery experts directly.