One term that frequently surfaces in debt recovery is the ‘High Court Writ.’ But what exactly is a High Court Writ, and what implications does it carry?
In the simplest terms, a High Court Writ, particularly a Writ of Control, is a legal document issued by the High Court of England and Wales. This writ authorises High Court Enforcement Officers (HCEOs) to take control of a debtor’s goods to the value of the debt and associated costs. Essentially, it’s a method used by creditors to recover money owed to them. The writs empower bailiffs to enforce the payment through legal means, ensuring that the necessary paperwork is in order. Creditors may also allow debtors to pay in instalments, providing some flexibility in the repayment process.
However, it’s important to remember that this legal process involving writs and money judgments is not arbitrary and carries several implications for all parties involved, including the claimant and the debtor. For the debtor, a High Court Writ can have significant consequences, including potential loss of property or assets. For the creditor, it offers a legal avenue for debt recovery with the assistance of bailiffs.
Understanding the High Court Writ, the process leading up to its issuance, and the roles and powers of those involved is crucial. It’s the first step in being prepared to address such a situation, whether you’re a debtor facing potential enforcement action or a creditor seeking to recover a debt.
- Understanding High Court Writ of Control
- High Court Bailiffs and Enforcement Officers: Roles and Powers
- Responding to a High Court Writ
- Costs Associated with High Court Writ
- How to Handle High Court Enforcement Officer Visits
- Breathing Space: An Option to Consider
- Tips for Navigating High Court Writ Procedures
- What is the difference between a County Court Judgment and a High Court Writ?
- What powers do High Court enforcement officers have?
- What should I do if a High Court enforcement officer visits my property?
- Can I apply for a ‘breathing space’ if I have a High Court Writ against me?
- What costs are associated with a High Court Writ?
- Speak to Become Debt Free
Understanding High Court Writ of Control
The Concept and Purpose of a High Court Writ
The High Court Writ of Control, often simply referred to as a ‘High Court Writ,’ is a type of enforcement action that a creditor may take if you owe them money. The purpose of this writ is to grant High Court Enforcement Officers (HCEOs), previously known as High Court bailiffs, the authority to take control of and sell a debtor’s goods to recover the money owed.
This is not an initial course of action, but typically follows a series of legal proceedings. It is a powerful tool in a creditor’s arsenal and demonstrates the seriousness of the situation when faced by a debtor.
How a High Court Writ is Issued
Before a High Court Writ can be issued, a creditor must have a judgment for a debt. The most common type of judgment is a County Court Judgment (CCJ). If the debtor does not satisfy the CCJ by paying the debt within the time set by the court, the creditor can apply to the court for the CCJ to be transferred to the High Court for enforcement.
Once the CCJ has been transferred, the creditor can apply for a High Court Writ. This application process involves submitting a series of documents, including the judgment and a ‘Certificate of Judgment’ obtained from the county court. Once the High Court approves the application, the writ is issued.
Connection to County Court Judgment (CCJ)
A County Court Judgment (CCJ) is typically the precursor to a High Court Writ. A CCJ is a type of court order in England and Wales that might be registered against you if you fail to repay money you owe. It’s an order to repay the debt, either in full or in instalments.
The failure to pay within the stipulated timeframe allows the judgment to be enforced, most commonly through the issue of a High Court Writ if the debt is over £600 and is not regulated by the Consumer Credit Act. This step elevates the debt recovery process to the High Court level, enabling the use of High Court enforcement officers, who have more powers than county court bailiffs.
Process of a CCJ
High Court Bailiffs and Enforcement Officers: Roles and Powers
Difference Between a High Court Bailiff and an Enforcement Officer
While the terms ‘High Court Bailiff’ and ‘High Court Enforcement Officer’ (HCEO) are sometimes used interchangeably, they refer to the same role but at different periods in time. The term ‘High Court Bailiff’ was replaced by ‘High Court Enforcement Officer’ following the Tribunals, Courts and Enforcement Act 2007, which granted these professionals more powers and updated their title to reflect this.
Whether they’re called High Court bailiffs or HCEOs, their role remains consistent. They are authorised by the High Court to enforce judgments by seizing and selling a debtor’s goods.
The Powers and Actions of High Court Enforcement Officers
High Court Enforcement Officers hold a considerable amount of authority when it comes to enforcing High Court Writs. Their primary function is to ‘take control of goods’ to the value of the debt and costs if you fail to pay. Here’s a quick rundown of their powers:
- Entry: HCEOs can enter your business premises or home to take control of goods. For residential properties, they must use a door, but for commercial properties, they can use any normal means including windows.
- Taking Control of Goods: Once inside, HCEOs can list your goods to the value of the debt plus costs. They will then enter into a ‘controlled goods agreement‘ with you.
- Sale of Goods: If you fail to adhere to the agreement, they can return to take the listed goods and sell them at auction.
However, they must always provide the debtor with a notice of enforcement and wait a clear seven days before taking action (not counting Sundays, Christmas Day, or Bank Holidays). They must also follow strict procedures and respect certain rights of the debtor, such as not taking essential household items or tools of the trade up to a value of £1,350.
Understanding the Enforcement Notice
An enforcement notice is a formal written warning issued by an HCEO. It states their intent to visit your premises to take control of goods if the debt, plus interest and enforcement fees, is not paid in full within seven clear days of receipt of the notice. This timeframe allows the debtor to seek advice and potentially arrange a payment plan to avoid further enforcement action.
Responding to a High Court Writ
Facing a High Court Writ can be daunting. However, it’s crucial to remember that you do have options available. Let’s explore some of these options.
Exploring Options When Faced with a High Court Writ
If you receive a High Court Writ, don’t panic. It’s essential to understand the details of the writ and to take steps promptly. Here are the options you have:
- Pay in Full: If possible, the easiest way to deal with a High Court Writ is to pay the debt in full. The amount will include the original debt, any interest accrued, and the enforcement fees. If you can afford this, it’s the best way to prevent further action.
- Negotiate a Payment Plan: If you cannot pay the full amount, you might consider contacting the HCEO or the creditor to negotiate a payment plan. This plan will allow you to pay the debt in instalments over a set period.
- Apply for a Stay of Execution: If you believe that the High Court Writ has been wrongly issued, you can apply to the court for a ‘stay of execution’. This action will halt the enforcement process while the court reviews your case.
- Seek Professional Advice: If the above options are not feasible or the situation is complex, it’s a good idea to seek professional advice. You might consider contacting a licensed insolvency practitioner, a solicitor, or a debt advice agency.
Setting Up an Instalment Plan or Payment Plan
Negotiating a payment plan involves contacting the HCEO or the creditor and proposing a reasonable amount that you can afford to pay regularly towards the debt. It’s vital to be realistic about your financial situation and ensure the amount proposed is sustainable.
If your proposal is accepted, ensure you get the agreement in writing, specifying the payment terms, the total amount to be paid, and what happens if you fail to keep up with payments.
Applying for a Stay of Execution
A stay of execution essentially puts the enforcement process on pause. This step can be taken if you believe the High Court Writ was wrongly issued or if you’ve already paid the debt but the court was not informed. You’ll need to make an application to the court, usually with a supporting witness statement. Be aware that this action usually requires legal advice to ensure it’s done correctly.
Seeking a Third Party Debt Order
A third party debt order (TPDO) is an order by the court directing a third party who owes money to the judgment debtor to pay that money instead to the judgment creditor. It’s a way to secure funds to pay your debt from someone who owes you money. This is a more complex option and will require legal assistance.
Costs Associated with High Court Writ
When dealing with a High Court Writ, it’s essential to be aware of the associated costs. Besides the original debt, additional costs can significantly increase the overall amount payable.
When a High Court enforcement officer (HCEO) is appointed, enforcement fees are added to the original debt. These fees are set out by the Taking Control of Goods (Fees) Regulations 2014 and are added at various stages of the enforcement process.
The enforcement fees structure is as follows:
- Compliance stage: £75 + VAT
- Enforcement stage: £190 + 7.5% of the value of the debt over £1,000 + VAT
- Sale stage: £525 + 7.5% of the value of the debt over £1,000 + VAT
VAT and Court Fees
VAT is added to all enforcement fees. The court fee, which is the fee for issuing the High Court Writ, is £66 and is also recoverable from the debtor.
Additional Charges and Interest
There may be additional charges associated with the enforcement process. For example, if the HCEO needs to hire a locksmith, or if the debtor’s goods need to be stored or sold at auction, these costs will be added to the total amount payable.
Furthermore, interest can also accrue on the debt. According to the County Courts Act 1984, interest may be charged at a daily rate from the date the judgment was made until the debt is paid in full.
Remember, it’s crucial to understand these costs when considering your options in response to a High Court Writ.
How to Handle High Court Enforcement Officer Visits
The arrival of a High Court enforcement officer (HCEO) can be an intimidating experience, but understanding your rights and the enforcement process can provide some reassurance.
Preparation for the Visit
Before an HCEO can visit your property, they must provide you with an enforcement notice at least seven clear days in advance. This notice will contain information about the debt, the court judgment, the added costs, and the possible consequences of not paying.
During this period, it’s a good idea to seek advice and consider your options. This could involve setting up a payment plan, applying for a stay of execution, or seeking a third-party debt order.
Rights of the Debtor During the Visit
Even during an HCEO visit, you still have rights. These include:
- HCEOs can only enter your property through a door or other normal means of entry. They cannot use force to enter your property on their first visit unless you have previously given them permission to enter.
- They cannot enter your property if only children or vulnerable people are present.
- They are not permitted to take essential household goods, tools of your trade worth up to £1,350, or vehicles you need for work (up to a certain value).
- They must treat you with respect and act in accordance with the National Standards for Enforcement Agents.
Understanding the Process of Taking Control of Goods
If you’re unable to pay the debt, the HCEO may take control of your goods. This involves making a list of goods at your property that could be sold to repay the debt. This is known as a ‘controlled goods agreement’. Once an item is listed, you cannot sell it or give it away.
You’ll usually be given a chance to pay your debt or make arrangements to pay before your goods are sold. If you fail to do so, the HCEO can return to your property and remove the goods listed for sale at auction.
It’s important to handle such situations with caution and obtain professional advice if needed.
Breathing Space: An Option to Consider
Breathing space, also known as a debt respite scheme, is a UK government initiative that can offer you temporary protection from your creditors. Introduced under the Debt Respite Scheme (Breathing Space Moratorium and Mental Health Crisis Moratorium) (England and Wales) Regulations 2020, it’s designed to provide individuals with the opportunity to seek advice and pursue debt solutions.
Explanation of the Breathing Space Legislation
The breathing space legislation provides two types of respite periods:
- Standard Breathing Space: This is a 60-day period during which interest, fees, and enforcement actions related to your debt are frozen. It also stops most creditors from contacting you. During this period, you’re expected to work with a debt advisor to develop a long-term solution to your debt problem.
- Mental Health Crisis Breathing Space: This type of breathing space is only available if you’re receiving mental health crisis treatment. It lasts as long as your mental health crisis treatment, plus 30 days, irrespective of the length of the treatment.
The Process and Benefits of Applying for Breathing Space
Applying for a breathing space requires you to work with a debt advice provider authorised by the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA). If the advisor believes a breathing space is appropriate, they will make an application on your behalf.
Once the breathing space starts, your creditors will receive a notification, and they must stop all actions related to your debts. They are also not allowed to contact you directly about your debts during this period.
Breathing space can provide you with the much-needed time and calm to work out a sustainable solution to your debt problem without the constant worry of escalating debts or enforcement actions.
Tips for Navigating High Court Writ Procedures
When faced with a High Court Writ, it’s essential to approach the situation carefully and make informed decisions. Here’s a bullet-point list of advice to help you navigate this complex process:
- Stay Calm and Analyse the Situation: The arrival of a High Court Writ can be alarming, but remember, panic won’t help. Take time to understand the situation.
- Read All Paperwork Thoroughly: Understand the nature of the High Court Writ, including the original debt, enforcement fees, and other charges.
- Get Professional Advice: As soon as you receive the writ, contact a professional advisor or a solicitor specialising in debt matters. They can help you understand your rights, obligations, and potential solutions.
- Communicate Promptly: Respond to all communications from the court, creditor, or enforcement officers promptly. Delaying may escalate the situation.
- Record Everything: Keep a record of all communications and actions. This includes letters, emails, telephone calls, and visits. This information could be vital if there are disputes later.
- Pay What You Can: If you can afford to, try to pay the debt, either in full or part. This shows good faith and may reduce the chances of your goods being taken into control.
- Protect Your Essential Goods: Be aware that some goods are protected and cannot be taken by High Court enforcement officers. This includes essential household items like bedding, clothing, and equipment necessary for your basic domestic needs or employment.
- Apply for Breathing Space: If you’re struggling with multiple debts, consider applying for a breathing space. It could give you the necessary time to seek advice and develop a plan to deal with your debts.
- Negotiate Payment Plans: Try negotiating an instalment plan or payment plan with your creditor or enforcement officer. This might prevent the situation from escalating further.
- Inform About Significant Changes: If your financial situation changes significantly, for example, you lose your job, make sure to inform the creditor and the court.
Remember, at Become Debt Free, we are here to provide you with support and advice throughout this process. You’re not alone, and there’s help available to navigate this challenging time.
In this section, we’ll answer some commonly asked questions about High Court Writs and the procedures associated with them.
What is the difference between a County Court Judgment and a High Court Writ?
A County Court Judgment (CCJ) is a type of court order in England and Wales that might be registered against you if you fail to repay money you owe. If the debtor fails to repay the money within the set timeframe, the creditor can escalate the CCJ to a High Court Writ to enforce the judgment.
What powers do High Court enforcement officers have?
High Court Enforcement Officers (HCEOs) have the authority to take control of goods in order to sell them at auction to repay a debt. They can enter your home or business premises to look for goods, but they can’t force their way in – they must be allowed entry. They can also break into other premises where they believe goods are held, such as a business premises, but only as a last resort.
What should I do if a High Court enforcement officer visits my property?
It’s important to be prepared for such a visit. Make sure you understand your rights and obligations, and keep all communication with the enforcement officer respectful and professional. You can ask them for identification and a copy of the writ of control. If you can’t pay in full, try to negotiate a payment plan.
Can I apply for a ‘breathing space’ if I have a High Court Writ against me?
Yes, individuals in England or Wales who are in problem debt can apply for a 60-day period of ‘breathing space’ where they’re protected from most types of enforcement action and contact from creditors. However, this doesn’t apply to all types of debt, and it’s best to seek professional advice to understand if this could be a viable option for you.
What costs are associated with a High Court Writ?
There are various costs associated with a High Court Writ. These include the court fee for issuing the writ, VAT, enforcement fees that cover the cost of the enforcement officer’s services, and potentially additional charges and interest depending on the circumstances.
Speak to Become Debt Free
Navigating the legal procedures related to a High Court Writ of Control can be complex and daunting. Understanding the process, knowing your rights and obligations, and exploring the available options can make a significant difference in how you manage the situation.
At this stage, it’s vital not to ignore the situation or hope that it will go away on its own. Act promptly and seek professional advice to find a solution that works for you and fits your circumstances.
If you are faced with a High Court Writ and need help, our team at Become Debt Free is ready to assist you. As licensed insolvency practitioners based in Leeds, we offer advice and solutions to individuals nationwide. Whether you need guidance on handling a High Court Writ, setting up an Individual Voluntary Arrangement (IVA), or exploring other options, we’re here to help.
You can reach us on 0800 169 1536, or leave an enquiry on our website. Don’t let the weight of debt control your life. Take the first step towards becoming debt free today.
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