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County court enforcement

This content applies to England

How a possession order is enforced by a county court warrant of possession.

It should be noted that, as an alternative to applying to the county court for a warrant of possession, the landlord can apply to the High Court for a writ of possession to be enforced by a High Court Enforcement Officer (HCEO).

Enforcing the possession order in the county court

The landlord can seek to enforce a possession order by requesting the court to issue a warrant of possession. This can occur if the:

  • tenant fails to comply with an outright possession order requiring her/him to leave the property on a date set by the court
  • court sets a date for possession after the tenant breaches a postponed order and the date for possession expires
  • tenant breaches a term of a suspended possession order.

For more information about the different types of possession orders see the page Possession Orders.

Procedure and permission of the court

The procedure to issue a warrant of possession in the county court is set out in Part 83 of the Civil Procedure Rules 1998 and Practice Direction 83. The permission of the court may be required before a warrant will be granted.

Permission of the court not required

When an outright possession order has been made the landlord does not have to apply for the permission of the court before applying for a warrant of possession. Also permission will not be required when the court has already set a date for possession after the tenant breached a postponed possession order and that date for possession has expired.[1]

The landlord must file a request at court using court form N325. Where the possession claim was started using the Possession Claim Online (PCOL) service, the landlord can request a warrant of possession using PCOL (see the page on Online claims for more information).

Permission of the court required

When the landlord seeks a warrant of possession following the tenant's breach of the terms of a suspended possession order s/he must obtain the permission of the court, except where the breach of the terms of the suspended order consists in non-payment of money.[2] Court form N325A allows the landlord to apply both for permission and for the warrant at the same time.

Where a suspended possession order has been made on grounds of antisocial behaviour, the landlord must apply for permission using court form N244, giving details of how the tenant has breached the terms of the order. When the court gives permission the landlord should then make a separate application for the warrant itself using court form N325.

Other circumstances where permission of the court is required include:[3]

  • six or more years have elapsed since the possession order was made[4]
  • if the possession order was obtained against trespassers and the application for the issue of a warrant is made more than three months after the date of the order, the landlord will need the permission of the court[5]
  • a change has taken place, by death or otherwise, in the parties entitled to enforce the possession order, or those liable to have the possession order enforced against them
  • the possession order is against a deceased person and the warrant is sought against her/his executors or administrators.

Notice to tenant

It is not necessary for the landlord to give notice to the tenant of an application for:[6]

  • permission of the court (unless the court has directed otherwise), or
  • a warrant of possession.

Failure to follow the correct procedure

In the event of a warrant being issued after the landlord failed to follow the correct procedure the tenant can apply for the warrant to be set aside (both before or after execution of the warrant). However, as in the past it was not clear that a landlord had to seek the permission of the court following the breach of the terms of a suspended possession order, in such a case it is open to the court to accept that the landlord made a genuine mistake and to use its general powers of management to validate the warrant.[7]

Period of validity

A warrant of possession is valid for a period of 12 months from the date it is issued, but may be renewed by the court.[8]

Notice of eviction

Court bailiffs execute warrants of possession. The bailiffs are instructed to deliver a notice of the eviction, form N54, addressed to all named defendants in the possession action and any other occupants. Form N54 should specify when the execution of the warrant will take place and tell the defendant that an application to court can be made to suspend the warrant (see below). It is important to note that the instruction to bailiffs to deliver an N54 form does not confer a legal right for the tenant or any other occupier to receive one. It may, however, be a relevant factor in any application to set aside a warrant on the grounds that there has been 'oppression' in its execution.

For more information, please see the After eviction page.

The Ministry of Justice National Standards for Enforcement Agents applies to public and private bailiffs. The standards are not legally binding.

Execution of warrant

In executing the warrant, the bailiffs may evict anyone they find on the premises, including occupiers who were not a party to the original possession proceedings.[9] In practice, it is sometimes possible to negotiate with the bailiffs for time to make an urgent application to the court to be joined as a party and for an application to be made to suspend the warrant. Whether such an application is worthwhile depends on the circumstances of the person concerned.

A county court held (nb this is a non-binding decision) that a warrant was not executed until the bailiff had fully secured the property and the claimant had 'quiet possession'.[10]

Staying or suspending warrant before execution

Where there is a risk of a warrant of possession being executed prior to the hearing of an application to set a possession order aside, an application to stay or suspend the warrant should be made. Applications may also be made to stay or suspend the warrant to accompany an application to vary the possession order dealt with above. The court may decide that to have the original order set aside or varied is not appropriate but that the warrant should be stayed.

In addition, the circumstances may be such that it is not appropriate to apply to set aside or vary the possession order. In these circumstances it is possible to make an application only to stay or suspend the execution of the warrant. This can properly be described as the final chance for a defendant to avoid or delay eviction.

The court has the power to stay or suspend a warrant at any time before the execution of the possession order (see Execution of warrant above) under the same statutory powers that enable the possession order to be suspended or the date for possession postponed (see above). In addition, the county court has a general power to stay the execution of any order, where a party cannot meet the installment payments specified in the order.[11]

Applications should be made on form N244 and supported by evidence. The evidence should be either on the form, or by witness statement. A fee is payable, and applications should be made with notice of at least three clear days. Where an application is made at a very late stage then the court may agree to a shorter time.[12]

If it is not possible to give formal notice to the other party because, for example, the warrant is about to be executed, the applicant is strongly advised to give informal notice of the intended application and the time of the hearing, for example by telephone. If the claim has been started using the Possession Claim Online (PCOL) service, then an application to suspend a warrant can also be made using PCOL (see the page on Online claims for more information).

Factors for the court to consider

The courts power to stay or suspend a warrant is limited to 14 days after the possession order was made, or six weeks in cases of exceptional hardship, where the order was:

  • against an occupier without the protection of the Rent Act 1977, Housing Act 1980 or Housing Act 1985, or
  • made under a mandatory ground, or
  • made under 21 of the Housing Act 1988 (the 'assured shorthold ground').[13]

However, this restriction does not apply to an appeal court's power to stay the execution of a warrant pending an appeal.[14]

Otherwise, the court has wide powers when exercising its discretion. The Court of Appeal has provided guidance on the types of factors that the courts may wish to consider:[15]

  • the fact that the tenant may lose her/his home and, in the case of social landlords, their responsibilities to other tenants
  • the conduct of both the tenant and the landlord, including the nature and seriousness of any breaches of the tenancy agreement and of the possession order. However, the need for the court to adhere to the overriding objectives of the Civil Procedure Rules and the need to deal with applications in a swift way may preclude a full investigation of the circumstances
  • the policy aims of the statutory scheme in question enhanced by Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights. More specifically, evictions should take place only after serious breaches of the tenancy and the terms of the possession order, and where it is reasonable to evict. Only in exceptional circumstances the court can, at this late stage of the possession proceedings, conduct an Article 8 proportionality review (see the page on Public law and human rights defences for more information on this).[16]

In addition, it has been established that the court can consider breaches of the tenancy other than those relating to the grounds on which possession was originally sought. Thus, in one case,[17] evidence of antisocial behaviour was considered by the court on an application to suspend execution of a possession order originally granted on rent arrears grounds.

However, the court will not always be willing to allow such evidence to be given weight. The following factors may be relevant:

  • whether the landlord had included any allegations as part of the original proceedings
  • whether the tenant has clear evidence of any allegations made against her/him, particularly where such allegations were not made as part of the original claim
  • if other allegations are made the court should generally consider them where they relate to events after commencement of the possession proceedings.

[1] r.83.26 Civil Procedure Rules 1998; Ahmed v Mahmood [2013] EWHC 3176 (QB); Tuohy v Bell [2002] EWCA Civ 423.

[2] r.83.2 Civil Procedure Rules 1998, as amended by r.8 Civil Procedure (Amendment No. 3) Rules 2018 SI 2018/975 (L.9) following Cardiff CC v Lee (Flowers) [2016] EWCA Civ 1034.

[3] r.83.2 Civil Procedure Rules 1998, as amended by r.8 Civil Procedure (Amendment No. 3) Rules 2018 SI 2018/975 (L.9).

[4] Hackney LBC v White (1996) 28 HLR 219; Patel v Singh [2002] EWCA Civ 1938; AA v Southwark LBC [2014] EWHC 500 (QB).

[5] r.83.26(11) Civil Procedure Rules 1998

[6] r.83.2 and 83.26 Civil Procedure Rules 1998, as amended by r.8 Civil Procedure (Amendment No. 3) Rules 2018 SI 2018/975 (L.9).

[7] r.3.1(2)(m) and 3.10 Civil Procedure Rules 1998; Cardiff CC v Lee [2016] EWCA Civ 1034.

[8] r.83.3(3) and (4) Civil Procedure Rules 1998.

[9] See R v Wandsworth County Court ex parte Wandsworth LBC [1975] 3 All ER 390, 1 WLR 1314.

[10] Royal Bank of Scotland v Bray, Halifax County Court, 25 November 2011, Legal Action January 2012.

[11] s.88 County Courts Act 1984; r.83.7 Civil Procedure Rules 1998.

[12] r.23.7(1) Civil Procedure Rules 1998. The court may abridge time under case management powers in r.3.1(2)(a) Civil Procedure Rules 1998.

[13] s.89 Housing Act 1980.

[14] Admiral Taverns (Cygnet) Ltd v Daniel and Daly [2008] EWCA Civ 1501.

[15] Sheffield City Council v Hopkins (2002) 34 HLR 237, CA.

[16] R (on the application of JL) v Secretary of State for Defence [2013] EWCA Civ 449; (1) Lawal (2) Lawal v Circle 33 Housing Trust [2014] EWCA Civ 1514..

[17] Sheffield City Council v Hopkins (2002) 34 HLR 237, CA.

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