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High Court enforcement

This content applies to England

How a possession order is enforced by a High Court writ of possession.

An alternative to enforcing a possession order by requesting the county court to issue a warrant of possession is for the landlord to apply to transfer the order to the High Court for enforcement by a High Court Enforcement Officer (HCEO).

HCEOs are also referred to as enforcement agents, certificated bailiffs or Sheriffs.

When a possession order can be enforced in the High Court

A possession order can be enforced through the High Court when:

  • the possession hearing was in the High Court. This is unusual because if a landlord applies for a possession order in the High Court, it will be transferred to the county court unless there are exceptional circumstances, such as complicated disputes of fact or important points of law[1]
  • the landlord applies to the county court to have the possession order transferred to the High Court for enforcement by an HCEO.[2]

Application for transfer of enforcement to High Court

It is at the discretion of the county court judge whether to allow the transfer of enforcement to High Court.[3]

At or before the possession hearing

The landlord can request during the county court possession proceedings that the possession order, if made, is transferred to the High Court for enforcement.

After the possession order is made

After a possession order has been obtained the landlord will need to make an application to the county court requesting that the order be transferred to the High Court for enforcement.

When an application cannot be made

if there are any outstanding applications from the tenant, such as an appeal against the possession order, an application for transfer cannot be made.[4]

If there are rent arrears, and the arrears together with any court costs total over £600, the landlord may also apply for a writ of control to recover the money owed. A writ of control provides for the seizure and sale of the debtor/tenant's goods - this was previously known as, and is still commonly referred to, as a writ of fieri facias or writ of fi fa. If the debt is regulated by the Consumer Credit Act 1974 (CCA), it cannot be transferred to the High Court for enforcement, as CCA regulated agreements can only be enforced in the county court.[5]

Reasons for a landlord to apply for a transfer to the High Court

The reasons why a landlord might ask for a transfer of the order to the High Court for enforcement include that:

  • enforcement is usually quicker through HCEOs than the county court bailiffs
  • loss of rental income due to delays in enforcement through the county court bailiffs
  • prevention of further damage to the property and/or anti-social behaviour
  • the HCEO can both enforce the possession order and seize goods, when money is owed.

Interest, currently at the rate of 8 per cent, on the judgment debt for arrears will accrue from the moment of the transfer of the order.

Reasons for a tenant to oppose a transfer to the High Court

As the speed of eviction is quicker and the costs of using a HCEO are greater than the county court bailiffs, a tenant may wish to oppose an application to transfer enforcement to the High Court.

The tenant's reasons could include that:

  • the landlord has not provided evidence that there will be a significant delay using the county court bailiffs
  • the costs involved are disproportionate, and/or
  • s/he needs the extra time to find somewhere else to live before eviction.

The tenant's particular circumstances, such as whether s/he has significant rent arrears or children, will often be relevant factors the court will take into account.

Requirement for High Court permission

If the landlord's application to transfer is granted by the county court, the landlord must obtain the permission of the High Court before the writ of possession is issued, except in:[6]

  • actions against trespassers
  • mortgage repossession cases.

Permission is also not required for the issue of a writ of possession following the breach of a possession order, including a suspended possession order, where the breach consists in non-payment of money.[7]

Landlord's notice of application for permission

When permission to enforce a possession order in the High Court is sought (ie except in mortgage repossession cases and actions against trespassers), the landlord must give notice of the application to 'every person in actual possession' of the property. The High Court must not grant permission unless each tenant is given such notice as the Court considers sufficient.[8]

There is no requirement to give notice in any particular form. What is sufficient notice will depend on the facts of the case. In the case of a sole tenant who was aware that the case had been transferred to the High Court, a reminder from the landlord of the terms of the court order and a request that possession is given up could be sufficient notice.[9]

Failure to give sufficient notice, or failure to provide full information to the Court about pending applications or appeals against the possession proceedings, can lead to the set aside of the writ of possession, even after its execution.[10]

High Court practice note on HCEOs

Some HCEOs had tried to circumvent the correct procedure by applying directly to the High Court to take over the matter under section 41 of the County Court Act 1984, or by using Form N293A inappropriately (ie against tenants rather than trespassers). On 21 March 2016, the Senior Master of the High Court (Queens Bench Division) issued a practice note in order to ensure that these malpractices stop.

HCEO's notice of execution of a writ of possession

Enforcement of a possession order is usually quicker through HCEOs than the county court bailiffs. Execution of a writ of possession by a HCEO can happen just few days after the expiry of the notice of the landlord's application for permission to the High Court, when required, or of the issue of the writ of possession.

There is no requirement on a HCEO to notify the tenants in advance of their visit about when they will be executing the writ of possession,[11] although it is common practice for them to drop off the writ and return a day or two later.

Where a HCEO is seeking to seize goods and money (such as rent arrears and costs) as well as recover possession of the property, they must be give the tenant/creditor a seven days' notice.[12]

Applications to stay or set aside

The High Court has the power to stay or set aside a writ of possession, or writ of control.[13] Applications to the High Court should be made on form N244. If the stay or set aside is granted it is important that, where possible, the tenant informs the HCEO of this fact as the High Court may not have informed the HCEO.

Any other application, such as to set aside the original possession order, must be made to the county court.

Directory of High Court Enforcement Officers

HCEOs are commercial agencies authorised by the High Court and not employees of the court. The Directory of High Court Enforcement Officers contains the names of enforcement officers in England and Wales who have been authorised to execute High Court writs.

Standards and conduct

HCEOs subscribe to a code of practice.

A writ of possession must not be executed on a Sunday, Good Friday or Christmas Day, unless the court orders otherwise.[14]

With effect from 6 April 2014, regulations govern the actions of HCEOs, and all other bailiffs, when seizing goods.[15] The regulations include the requirements that the HCEO must not:

  • enter residential property before 6am or after 9pm, unless the court has authorised this
  • enter if the only person present is a child aged under 16
  • take essential household goods such as a cooker, fridge or washing machine.

[1] Civil Procedure Rule (CPR) 55.3, CPR Practice Direction 55A.

[2] s.42 County Courts Act 1984.

[3] s.42 County Courts Act 1984; CPR 30.3.

[4] see Court Form 293A; Ahmed v Mahmood [2013] EWHC 3176 (QB).

[5] art. 8(1A) High Court and County Court Jurisdiction Order 1991, as amended; s.141 Consumer Credit Act 1974.

[6] CPR 83.13(2) and (6).

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

[8] CPR 83.13(8)

[9] CPR 83.13(8)(a); Partridge v Gupta [2017] EWHC 2110 (QB).

[10] Nicholas v Secretary of State for Defence [2015] EWHC 4064 (Ch); Ahmed v Mahmood [2013] EWHC 3176 (QB); Birmingham CC v Mondhlani [2015] EW Misc (CC) (Birmingham County Court case no. 9PB76894 of 6 November 2015).

[11] Pritchard and others v Teitelbaum and others [2011] EWHC 1063 (Ch).

[12] reg.6 Taking Control of Goods Regulations 2013 SI 2013/1894.

[13] CPR 83.7; Fleet Ltd v Lower Maisonette 46 Eton Place [1972] 1 WLR 765.

[14] CPR 83.6(3).

[15] Taking Control of Goods Regulations 2013 SI 2013/1894.

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