Enforcement of possession orders by County Court possession warrants

The process of using a warrant of possession allowing bailiffs to enforce a possession order for a rented property.

This content applies to England

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.

Landlord applies to the county court for a warrant

The landlord can enforce a possession order by asking the court to issue a warrant of possession. A warrant can be issued if the tenant:

  • does not leave on the date set on an outright possession order

  • breaches the terms of a suspended possession order

A warrant cannot be issued before a possession date on the order.[1]

Applications for a warrant are made on form N325. The form is submitted to the county court hearing centre where the order was made. The application is made without notice to the tenant.[2]

The landlord must use form N325A if the tenant has breached a suspended possession order made in relation to rent arrears.

Where the possession claim was started using the Possession Claim Online (PCOL) service, the landlord can use PCOL to apply for a warrant.

Permission of the court

The landlord does not normally need to apply for permission of the court for a warrant to be issued. Permission of the court is required if:

  • the order was suspended on terms other than non-payment of money, for example antisocial behaviour

  • six or more years have elapsed since the possession order was made[3]

  • 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[4]

  • 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

The landlord must apply for permission using form N244. When the court gives permission, the landlord should then make a separate application for the warrant itself using court form N325.

Permission can be granted without a hearing.

Notice to tenant

The landlord is not required to give notice to the tenant of an application for:[5]

  • a warrant of possession

  • permission of the court (unless the court has directed otherwise)

Failure to follow the correct procedure

If the landlord does not follow the correct procedure then the application for the warrant might be refused. If a warrant is issued incorrectly, the tenant can apply to have it set aside.

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.[6]

Warrant applications where the tenant is in a breathing space

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 to the tenant

The bailiffs must deliver notice of eviction to the premises at least 14 days before the eviction date.[7]

The notice of eviction must be on form N54 and addressed to all persons named on the possession order and 'any other occupiers'.[8]

Form N54 specifies when the execution of the warrant will take place and that the defendant can make an application to court to suspend the warrant.

The court can dispense with the requirement to serve a notice of eviction or extend or shorten the time for it to be delivered.[9]

The requirement to deliver a notice of eviction does not apply where action is taken against trespassers who never had permission to enter or occupy the premises.[10]

Delivering the notice of eviction

The notice must be 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.

If this is not practicable it should be attached in a sealed transparent envelope to stakes in the land in places where they are clearly visible.[11]

Notice if an eviction is rescheduled

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.[12]

Tenant applications to suspend the warrant

The tenant might be able to apply to suspend the warrant of possession before it is executed.

The court has the power to suspend a warrant if the possession order was made on a discretionary grounds.

The court’s powers are more limited where possession is mandatory, for example, following a section 21 notice.

There are only limited circumstances where a tenant can apply to set a warrant aside after execution.

Execution of a warrant by bailiffs

The bailiffs will attend the property at the time stated on form N54. The landlord or their representative is also normally present.

In executing the warrant, the bailiffs can evict anyone they find on the premises, including occupiers who were not a party to the original possession proceedings.[13]

If an occupier was not party to the proceedings but would have had a defence, it might be 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.

A County Court held that a warrant was not executed until the bailiff had fully secured the property and the claimant had 'quiet possession'.[14]

If the tenant refuses to leave then the landlord can apply to court for committal for contempt of court. If a person assaults a bailiff during the execution of a warrant, the bailiff has the power to arrest them. This power can only be used for the purpose of bringing the person before a court.[15]

Evictions where an occupant has symptoms of coronavirus or is self-isolating

Government guidance for tenants states that tenants should make bailiffs aware if anyone living in the property has tested positive or has any of the main symptoms of COVID-19.

Tenants should use the court contact details provided on the N54 notice of eviction to inform the bailiffs about their circumstances, including when the symptoms started and how long they have been self-isolating for.

Previously issued guidance to bailiffs states that evictions should not be carried out if they are made aware that the tenant or anyone the tenant lives with:

  • has coronavirus symptoms

  • has tested positive for coronavirus

  • is awaiting coronavirus test results

This guidance is currently being reviewed.

The guidance for tenants confirms that bailiffs can withdraw from the property if they observe that someone has visible signs of symptoms of COVID-19.

Warrants of restitution if the tenant re-enters

If the tenant re-enters the property after the warrant is executed, the landlord can apply for a warrant of restitution. The application must be with permission of the court.[16]

A warrant of restitution allows bailiffs to evict any person in unlawful occupation of the premises without the landlord having to issue a new claim for possession.

The landlord can also apply if a person has entered the premises who was not part of the original proceedings but is closely associated with the tenant.[17]

If the tenant or associated person enters the property again after the warrant of restitution has been executed, premises, the lender can apply to the court to commit then for contempt of court. In one case, an occupier was imprisoned for a period of three months.[18]

Last updated: 11 January 2022

Footnotes

  • [1]

    Tuohy v Bell [2002] EWCA Civ 423, [2002] 1 WLR 2703.

  • [2]

    r.83.26(2) Civil Procedure Rules 1998

  • [3]

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

  • [4]

    r.83.26(11) Civil Procedure Rules 1998.

  • [5]

    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).

  • [6]

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

  • [7]

    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.

  • [8]

    r.83.8A  Civil Procedure Rules 1998

  • [9]

    r.83.8A(5) Civil Procedure Rules 1998

  • [10]

    r.83.8A(6) Civil Procedure Rules 1998.

  • [11]

    r.83.8A(4) Civil Procedure Rules 1998.

  • [12]

    r.83.8A(2) Civil Procedure Rules 1998 as amended by r.12 The Civil Procedure (Amendment No. 4) Rules 2021 SI. 2021/855.

  • [13]

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

  • [14]

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

  • [15]

    s.14 County Courts Act 1984.

  • [16]

    r.83.26 Civil Procedure Rules 1998, as amended.

  • [17]

    Wiltshire CC v Frazer [1986] 1 All ER 65.

  • [18]

    Governor & Company of the Bank of Ireland v Shah and another [2014] EWHC 4839 (QB).