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Enforcement of possession orders by writs of possession in the High Court

This content applies to England

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

As an alternative to enforcing a possession order by applying for a warrant of possession in the County Court, the landlord may 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 in 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

The County Court judge has discretion whether to allow the transfer of enforcement to High Court.[3]

The landlord can request the transfer:

  • during possession proceedings in the County Court
  • after a possession order has been obtained, by making an application to the County Court.

From 20 September 2020, if the property is within the area of a District Registry and the landlord applies for a transfer to High Court, then, unless the County Court directs otherwise, the case will be transferred to the District Registry.[4]

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.[5]

High Court enforcement and rent arrears

If rent 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 goods. This was previously known as, and is still commonly referred to, as a writ of fieri facias or writ of fi fa.

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 landlord to apply for a transfer to the High Court

A landlord might ask for a transfer of the order to the High Court because:

  • enforcement in High Court is usually quicker
  • delays in County Court enforcement may result in increasing rent arrears, further damage to the property and/or anti-social behaviour
  • when money is owed, the HCEO can both enforce the possession order and seize goods.

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

The tenant's reasons for opposing High Court enforcement could include:

  • lack of evidence that County Court enforcement would cause a significant delay
  • disproportionately high costs
  • requiring more time to find somewhere else to live before eviction.

The tenant's particular circumstances, such as whether they have 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 High Court’s permission before the writ of possession is issued, except in:[6]

  • actions against trespassers
  • mortgage repossession cases
  • cases where a suspended possession order for non-payment of rent is breached.[7]

Landlord's notice of application for permission

When permission to enforce a possession order in the High Court is sought, 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. Where a sole tenant 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 to give up possession could be sufficient notice.[9]

A writ of possession can be set aside even after its execution if the landlord fails to:[10]

  • give sufficient notice
  • provide full information to the court about pending applications or appeals against the possession proceedings.

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.

Notice of execution of a writ of possession

From 20 September 2020, a notice of eviction must be delivered to the premises at least 14 days before the eviction date, unless the court dispenses with this requirement.[11] No notice of eviction can be delivered before 21 September 2020.[12]

The notice requirement does not apply to action against trespassers who have never had permission to enter or occupy the premises.

For more information about the form and content of the eviction notice, see the section ‘Notice of eviction’ on the page Warrants of possession in the County Court.

Before 23 August 2020 HCEOs did not have to notify the tenants in advance about the eviction date,[13] although some HCEOs did drop off the writ and return a day or two later. Before 23 August 2020, seven days' notice was required only if a HCEO was seeking to seize goods and money as well as recover possession of the property. [14]

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.[15] 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.[16]

With effect from 6 April 2014, regulations govern the actions of HCEOs, and all other bailiffs, when seizing goods.[17] 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] r. 30.4(3) Civil Procedure Rules 1998, as inserted by r. 6 Civil Procedure (Amendment No. 3) Rules 2020 SI 2020/747, as amended by r. 3(a) Civil Procedure (Amendment No. 5) (Coronavirus) Rules 2020 SI 2020/889.

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

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

[7] CPR 83.2(3)(e), as amended by reg 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] r. 83.8A Civil Procedure Rules 1988, as inserted by r. 16 Civil Procedure (Amendment No. 3) Rules 2020 SI 2020/747, as amended by r. 3(a) Civil Procedure (Amendment No. 5) (Coronavirus) Rules 2020 SI 2020/889.

[12] r.2(2) Civil Procedure (Amendment No. 3) Rules 2020 SI 2020/747, as amended by r. 3(b) Civil Procedure (Amendment No. 5) (Coronavirus) Rules 2020 SI 2020/889.

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

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

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

[16] CPR 83.6(3).

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

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