What is a high court writ?
A high court writ (formally known as a writ of control) enables the use of a high court enforcement officer’s powers to visit your business premises. The high court writ allows them to remove goods to the value of the county court judgment, plus the HCEO fees.
Before attending the premises, notice of enforcement must be served 7 clear days (excluding Sundays and Bank Holidays) on the intended address. Only once this period has expired, can enforcement officers attend your premises to take control of goods under the high court writ.
To avoid items being immediately removed, they may take an inventory and pressure you into signing a controlled goods agreement. Subsequently, making a payment plan.
What are a high court enforcement officer’s powers?
High court enforcement officer’s powers allow them to visit your premises 7 days a week, between 6:00 and 21:00. However, if you run a business that routinely operates outside of these hours, such as a nightclub, an enforcement officer does not need permission to enter your business premises. By giving prior notice, they can force entry to your business premises, due to the high court writ.
Once an enforcement officer has entered your premises, they will first demand payment of the debt. If payment is not forthcoming, high court enforcement officers’ powers allow them to take control of goods. This can be by way of immediate removal of goods, or by binding you to a controlled goods agreement.
Any goods removed from the premises will be sold at auction if the debt remains unsatisfied. Assets that can be removed include:
- Moveable plant and machinery
- Motor vehicles
- Office furniture
The enforcement officer must provide 7 days notice before the sale is due to take place. This allows for a final period of time for payment.
That said, you should bear in mind that actual removal of goods and sale at auction is not a frequent occurrence in practice. If the enforcement officer can bind you to a payment agreement, they will seek to go down this route. The removal of goods is a very last resort. Even then, if the sale value of the goods does not exceed the costs of sale, they are unlikely to proceed with removal.
What are my rights in relation to high court enforcement?
High court enforcement officer’s powers may make you, subsequently, feel powerless. However, they must abide by a strict code of conduct. For example, as intimidating as they may be, enforcement officers cannot be violent in their means of pursuing payment. If they push you out of the way to get into the premises, this is assault. This act should be reported to the police, as well as the enforcement officers’ licensing body.
Your rights are also protected as there are certain items high court enforcement officers may not remove from the premises. This list depends on whether you are a sole trader or a limited company, detailed here. If they attempt to exercise a controlled goods agreement against any third party assets, and you don’t have evidence to hand that this is third party property, you should notify the owner as soon as possible. They may then lodge their claim against the assets. You should also bear in mind that even retention of title agreements class as third-party ownership.
Finally, you also have the right to all the relevant notice periods (as above). High court enforcement officer’s powers don’t extend to the right to attend your premises before the notice of enforcement has expired.
If you’ve received a notice of enforcement of a writ of control and will not be able to pay, this is the best time to seek immediate professional advice.
How are HCEO fees paid and charged?
If a writ of control is issued and there is no valid dispute, you will be liable to pay the HCEO fees. This is on top of the county court judgment debt, court fees and any interest due. These fees increase as execution proceeds. Therefore, if you intend to pay the debt, you should do so as soon as possible.
There are four stages of the enforcement procedure, starting from service of a writ of control and notice of enforcement. These are set out in the chart below, which also sets out the level of HCEO fees and when they take effect.
How can I stop high court enforcement officers?
There are various options to stop high court enforcement officers even before they attend your premises. One such is if you can pay immediately, or over time. If you are unable to pay the county court judgment debt, and other issues are mounting, it may be time to consider an insolvency process, such as liquidation or administration. For further advice on this, you can contact one of our business rescue experts for a free initial consultation.