What is a High Court Enforcement Officer (HCEO) and when can you use a HCEO?
HCEOs (High Court Enforcement Officers) are officers of the High Court of England & Wales, previously known as Sheriff Officers. High Court Enforcement Officers (HCEO) are responsible for enforcing judgments of the High Court.
The most important function of a High Court Enforcement Officer (HCEO) is to enforce judgments of the County Courts obviously after the judgment has been transferred to the High Court.
For the record we are not High Court Enforcement Officers (HCEO) however we do have partnerships with them as they complement our business.
In this article, we'll talk about the factors that will dictate the reasons you will need to consider before instructing a debt collection agency or High Court Enforcement Officers, the questions you should be asking when deciding which one to use, the process and general price structure as to what you'll likely spend. And by the time you're done reading this, not only will you have a clear sense for budget, but you'll finally be on that path of getting your debt recovered –and be well informed! Let's dive in.
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High Court Enforcement Officers (HCEO) are similar to County Court Bailiffs but with greater powers. County Court Bailiffs are civil servants whereas High Court Enforcement Officers (HCEO) are employed by private companies. High Court Enforcement Officers (HCEO) are heavily regulated by the High Court Enforcement Officers Association (HCEOA).
County Court Judgments (CCJ) obtained under regulated agreements (Consumer Credit Act 1974) cannot be enforced by High Court Enforcement Officers (HCEO). High Court Enforcement Officers (HCEO) can only enforce a County Court Judgment (CCJ) over £600.00 once it has been transferred to the High Court and a Writ of Control has been issued.
The most common of writ is the Writ of Control, previously known as Fieri Facias. This writ is normally used for recovering debt (money owed), but the objective of the High Court Enforcement Officer (HCEO) is to seize goods from the judgment debtor to the amount equivalent on the judgment in order for the goods to be sold at auction if the judgment debtor doesn’t pay the amount demanded.
There is also a Writ of Possession, and this is usually used when trying to recover property or possession of property (evictions).
High Court Enforcement Officers (HCEO) are authorised by the High Court to take control of goods or assets. They can seize property and assets in order to recover money or court fees. They must comply with a Code of Best Practice laid down by the High Court Enforcement Officers Association (HCEOA).
The High Court Enforcement Officers (HCEO) can seize goods from a business or personal property depending on the judgment debtor. This can include tools of the trade, for example.
High Court Enforcement Officers (HCEO) can also seize goods if the debtor fails to repay a debt. However, if the judgment debtor has entered into a Controlled Goods Agreement and a repayment agreement has been entered into, then they cannot take the goods unless the judgment debtor has defaulted on the repayment agreement.
Once a Controlled Goods Agreement has been entered into then the goods listed on the inventory belong to the High Court Enforcement Officer (HCEO) until such time the debt has been repaid in full. If the judgment debtor subsequently defaults on the Controlled Goods Agreement, then the High Court Enforcement Officer (HCEO) can attend the property to remove and sell the seized assets. If the debtor disposes of the goods or tries to hide these then they will be in contempt of the court which could lead to up to 14 days imprisonment.
The High Court Enforcement process under a High Court Writ has four stages, and each stage has its own set of fees which are clearly defined under The Taking Control of Goods (Fees) Regulations 2014, these are:
- Compliance Stage
- First Enforcement Stage
- Second Enforcement Stage
- Sale or Disposal Stage
Each time the High Court Enforcement process escalates from one stage to the next, the relevant fees are added to the debt and payable by the judgment debtor. Therefore, you can clearly see it makes sense for the judgment debtor to engage early in the process to avoid the escalating charges.
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Should I use a High Court Enforcement Officer (HCEO)?
The answer to this question really depends on the circumstances of each debt and the claimants needs. For instance, the High Court Enforcement process is usually a lot quicker than obtaining a Charging Order however if you want to ensure you debt becomes secured, assuming the debtor owns their property, then you will want to obtain a Charging Order first or you could do both at the same time but obviously this will increase the amount of costs payable.
If you know the judgment debtors’ employers’ details and you know that the judgment debtor has very little in assets, then an Attachment of Earnings will be more appropriate.
You may wish to consider going down the insolvency route which would involve either making an individual bankrupt or winding up a company.
And the list goes on…As you can see, each debt is unique, and the correct course of action will be determined on a case-by-case basis.
At Athena Collections, we look at each case based on its own merit and depending on the circumstances of each case an appropriate recommendation will be made along with our reasoning. Ultimately you may decide to choose an alternative route but as long as you have all the information available to you then this will allow you to make an informed decision, whether it may be a High Court Enforcement Officer (HCEO) or any other enforcement method.
High Court Enforcement Officers (HCEO) versus Debt Collection Agency? We will cover this in a separate article which you can find here