The Sheriffs are Coming, BBC’s award winning daytime television show, has shone a brief aperture of light on the much misunderstood world of the High Court Enforcement Officer (HCEO) – previously known as Sheriffs until reforms in 2004.
Their remit is seemingly narrow and simple: take property from a debtor, who has an unsatisfied High Court money judgement held against them for which the stipulated time for payment has passed, auction the property and give the money generated, up to the sums owed, to the creditor.
HCEO are officers of the High Court who execute writs of enforcement issued by the High Court and are distinct from Court Bailiffs, who are officers of the lower courts (the County and Magistrates’ Court). As such, given High Court cases usually concern the recovery of larger sums of money, a HCEO has a greater plethora powers when compared to their Bailiff counterpart.
So, with these elevated powers, does that means an HCEO can come onto your property enter by any means they see fit and take what they want? This will depend on the type of property you occupy.
It might surprise you, especially if you’re one of the 61 million people in the UK not to have watched the BBC show, that if you occupy a commercial premise, then, under statutory powers, a HCEO can break into your property and seize any goods it deems suitable for auction as to satisfy the outstanding debt. Moreover, it is a contempt of court (illegal), to prevent and/or do anything to obstruct a HCEO from carrying out their duty.
Although HCEOs don’t have completely unfettered rights of entry when it comes to residential properties, they still weald an enormous sabre of authority. Amongst their powers of entry, they have the right to climb a boundary of a residential property, enter through an open and/or unlocked door or window and, once inside, forcibly open, by any means, internal doors. Again, any act to prevent/obstruct a HCEO will be deemed a contempt of Court for which the offending party could be arrested.
With these wide powers of entry/seizure, a creditor with an unsatisfied High Court Judgement Order for which the time to pay has expired, as directed by the original court Order, will often turn to the assistance of the HCEO. Once the writ for enforcement has been issued by the High Court, it is only a matter of time until the HCEO attends the property to recover the debt owed. The only way of circumventing forcible entry and the inevitable seizure of goods is to pay the debt owed or agree a payment plan with the HCEO.