There are many claims regarding the rights of entry of the High Court Enforcement Officer (HCEO) acting under a Writ of Fi-Fa, much of which are under-exaggerated, over-exaggerated or just plain untrue.
However, the HCEO does have advantages compared to the powers afforded to the Certificated Bailiff, the County Court Bailiff and the Debt Collector when trying to collect the monies due to a creditor.
The address for enforcement
It is the duty of the HCEO to levy upon the defendant’s goods wherever they may be found (within England & Wales). This will often mean that the HCEO will visit an address not detailed on the Writ. The Writ address is merely an ‘endorsement’ due to the fact that the address for enforcement may be altered at any time as the creditor may direct.
The HCEO may climb a perimeter wall or fence to gain entry to the grounds of the property. They can then enter where a door or window is open, opening further to aid entry if required. They may also use the door handle to gain access when the door is unlocked but may not open a window that is shut.
Once inside, they may also break down the inner doors of the property to seek the goods of the defendant. The HCEO may not be forcibly ejected; however, if they are, they can now force re-entry back into the property.
Furthermore, they may force entry to a garage, out house, stables or barn providing it is not physically attached to, and form any part of, the residence.
The HCEO can force entry to commercial premises to levy on a first visit or any subsequent visit to remove goods providing the property is not physically attached to, and form any part of, a residential dwelling. Prior to forcing entry, the HCEO should have a genuine reason to believe that goods of the defendant are contained within. They should make reasonable enquiries as to whether the property is rented, contacting the landlord if necessary.
Walking possession agreements
If the defendant has signed a walking possession agreement, then entry may be forced by the HCEO to remove the seized goods should payment not be made within the timescales specified.
The HCEO may attend the registered office of the defendant but this will often be an accountant. It is unlikely that goods of the defendant will be found here. The HCEO may enquire as to a trading address and attend there accordingly. If the registered office is the home of a director then the HCEO is bound by the rights of entry as per residential premises above.
Director’s home addresses
The HCEO may visit the home of a director of a limited liability company if they believe that goods of the defendant may be located there. This could be company vehicles or home office equipment (computers etc). However, they are bound by the rights of entry as per residential premises above.
Third party premises
The HCEO can enter the premises of a third party but it is advisable to seek their consent first. If the HCEO enters and can find no goods of the defendant they may be deemed a trespasser. However, if they believe that the goods of the defendant have been taken there to avoid execution they may force entry, after request and denial, but does so at their own risk.
The HCEO may not levy execution at Royal residences and Diplomatic premises. However, it is worth checking the property details thoroughly. For example; many Palaces are not deemed ‘Royal residences’. Some other premises may be of such a nature, that care and attention will be necessary when the officer attends to fulfil their duties, for example, a funeral directors, care home or hospital.
Some of these rights of entry may change as a result of the proposals in the Tribunals, Courts and Enforcement Bill but these changes are not expected until 2012 at the earliest.