Enforcement of possession orders by County Court possession warrants
The process of using a warrant of possession to enforce a possession order, notice of eviction, and suspension of warrants.
Warrants of possession
A warrant of possession is used to enforce a judgment or order for the possession of land. This includes possession orders made against tenants.
If occupiers do not voluntarily leave the land, an Enforcement Agent working for the County Court has powers under the warrant to evict them. Enforcement Agents are also known as bailiffs.
Alternatively the landlord can apply to the High Court for a writ of possession to be enforced by a High Court Enforcement Officer (HCEO). This is usually quicker.
Between 17 November 2020 and 31 May 2021 there was a stay on enforcement of warrants and writs of possession, except in limited circumstances.
Applying to the county court for a warrant
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 them 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.
The court can make different types of possession orders.
Procedure and permission of the court
The procedure to issue a warrant of possession in the county court is set out in 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.
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.
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 they must obtain the permission of the court, except where the breach of the terms of the suspended order consists in non-payment of money. 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:
six or more years have elapsed since the possession order was made
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
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 their executors or administrators.
Notice to tenant
It is not necessary for the landlord to give notice to the tenant of an application for:
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.
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.
Breathing space and applications for a warrant
Landlords are prohibited from applying for a warrant of possession on the basis of rent arrears, during a breathing space moratorium.
The landlord must notify the court if the tenant is in a breathing space moratorium. The court must ensure that any proceedings to enforce an order concerning a moratorium debt does not progress during the moratorium period.
Notice of eviction
From 20 September 2020 a notice of eviction must be delivered to the premises before the eviction date.
The notice of eviction must be:
on form N54
addressed to all persons named on the possession order and 'any other occupiers'
inserted through the letter box in a sealed transparent envelope or, if this is not practicable, attached to the main door or some other part of the land so that it is clearly visible, or, if this is not practicable, attached in a sealed transparent envelope to stakes in the land in places where they are clearly visible.
Form N54 specifies when the execution of the warrant will take place that the defendant can make an application to court to suspend the warrant.
The notice must be delivered to the premises 14 days before the eviction date, unless the court:
dispenses with the requirement to serve a notice of eviction
extends or shortens the time by which a notice of eviction must be delivered.
The requirement to deliver a notice of eviction does not apply where action is taken against trespassers who have never had permission to enter or occupy the premises.
From 7 August 2021 if an eviction does not take place on the date specified on the notice, a further notice of eviction must be delivered to the premises at least 7 days before the new eviction date.
Execution of a warrant of possession
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. 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 that a warrant was not executed until the bailiff had fully secured the property and the claimant had 'quiet possession'.
The Ministry of Justice National Standards for Enforcement Agents applies to public and private bailiffs. The standards are not legally binding.
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 under the same statutory powers that enable the possession order to be suspended or the date for possession postponed. In addition, the county court has a general power to stay the execution of any order, where a party cannot meet the instalment payments specified in the order.
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.
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.
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 section 21 of the Housing Act 1988
However, this restriction does not apply to an appeal court's power to stay the execution of a warrant pending an appeal.
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:
the fact that the tenant may lose their 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
the policy aims of the statutory scheme in question enhanced by Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights.
In considering human rights grounds, 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.
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, 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 them, 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
For information about options after eviction, including when an executed warrant can be set aside, see After eviction.
Last updated: 7 August 2021
r.83.26 Civil Procedure Rules 1998; Ahmed v Mahmood  EWHC 3176 (QB); Tuohy v Bell  EWCA Civ 423.
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)  EWCA Civ 1034.
r.83.2 Civil Procedure Rules 1998, as amended by r.8 Civil Procedure (Amendment No. 3) Rules 2018 SI 2018/975 (L.9).
Hackney LBC v White (1996) 28 HLR 219; Patel v Singh  EWCA Civ 1938; AA v Southwark LBC  EWHC 500 (QB).
r.83.26(11) Civil Procedure Rules 1998.
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).
r.3.1(2)(m) and 3.10 Civil Procedure Rules 1998; Cardiff CC v Lee  EWCA Civ 1034.
r.83.3(3) and (4) Civil Procedure Rules 1998.
r.83.8A Civil Procedure Rules 1998, 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.
r.83.8A Civil Procedure Rules 1998
r.83.8A(2) Civil Procedure Rules 1998 as amended by r.12 The Civil Procedure (Amendment No. 4) Rules 2021 SI. 2021/855.
see R v Wandsworth County Court ex parte Wandsworth LBC  3 All ER 390, 1 WLR 1314.
Royal Bank of Scotland v Bray, Halifax County Court, 25 November 2011, Legal Action January 2012.
s.88 County Courts Act 1984; r.83.7 Civil Procedure Rules 1998.
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.
s.89 Housing Act 1980.
Admiral Taverns (Cygnet) Ltd v Daniel and Daly  EWCA Civ 1501.
Sheffield City Council v Hopkins (2002) 34 HLR 237, CA.
R (on the application of JL) v Secretary of State for Defence  EWCA Civ 449; (1) Lawal (2) Lawal v Circle 33 Housing Trust  EWCA Civ 1514.
Sheffield City Council v Hopkins (2002) 34 HLR 237, CA.