Sometimes, for enforcement to be successful, the officer needs to get inside the premises to seize goods, either to encourage payment or to put up for sale to repay the debt. There are strict rules around what is and isn’t permitted, and these do differ in some areas between bailiffs (County Court Bailiff or a Certificated Bailiff) on the one hand and High Court Enforcement Officers (HCEO) on the other.
Rights of entry to commercial premises
Generally speaking, HCEOs have greater power to force entry into commercial premises.
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. Before forcing entry, the HCEO should have a genuine reason to believe that goods of the defendant are inside. They should check whether the property is rented, contacting the landlord if necessary.
Bailiffs are ONLY permitted to force entry to commercial premises with the Court’s permission.
Rights of entry to residential premises
No one enforcing a judgment has the right to force entry into residential premises unless they have a signed walking possession agreement or were forcibly ejected. However, the HCEO or bailiff may climb a perimeter wall or fence to get into the grounds of the property. They can then enter through an unlocked door or open window, opening it further to if necessary. They may use the door handle when the door is unlocked but may not open a window that is shut.
Once inside, they can break down the inner doors of the property to find goods belonging to the defendant. They may not be forcibly ejected; however, if they are, they can now force re-entry back into the property. Also, once they have a signed Walking Possession Agreement, they may also force entry, if necessary, on a return visit.
On a first visit, the HCEO or bailiff 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
Visiting other addresses
The HCEO has a duty to levy, so is also permitted to visit addresses 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.
This could include business premises, a registered office or a director’s home address. 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.
If the creditor asks a debt collector to recover the debt, the debt collector has no right to enter premises or seize goods. They normally operate by phoning and writing to the debtor requesting payment.