Under the Taking Control of Goods Regulations 2013, which came into effect in April 2014, a notice of enforcement must be sent to the enforcement address.
This is normally the address on the judgment, and the purpose is to give the debtor seven clear days in which to pay in full prior to any attendance.
Prior to April 2014, a High Court Enforcement Officer (HCEO) could attend without notice at any address where he had cause to believe there may be goods belonging to the debtor.
Under the new regulations, the notice of enforcement forms part of the first stage of the enforcement process, the compliance stage. This triggers a compliance fee of £75 plus VAT which is recoverable from the debtor.
If enforcement does not prove possible, the creditor will become liable to pay this compliance fee at the end of the enforcement process.
Different enforcement address
If after an initial attendance, the debtor is found to have moved to a different address, enforcement can take place at that address, provided a new notice of enforcement (NoE) is sent to the debtor there.
If the creditor has reason to believe that the debtor may have moved, it may be worthwhile undertaking a trace before starting enforcement action, so that the NoE is sent to the correct address first time round.
Debtor living with parents
The HCEO is permitted to attend at the debtor’s parents’ house, if the debtor is living there. The HCEO may only take control of goods belonging to the debtor.
If there is doubt as to ownership of the goods, the onus is on the debtor and third party to provide proof of ownership.
Enforcing against the debtor at work
We are often asked by clients whether we can attend at the debtor’s work place. The answer to this will depend on whom the judgment is against.
If the judgment is against a sole trader, for example John Smith trading as John Smith Engineering, then enforcement can take place at their work or home address (notice of enforcement will need to be sent to both addresses).
Because the sole trader does not have the limited liability that limited company status provides, the HCEO can take control of personal goods or business goods. The business goods, if solely available for the debtor’s use to conduct his trade, may be classed as tools of the trade. The HCEO is permitted to take control of tools of the trade above the value of £1,350.
If the debtor is an employed individual, then there is little to be gained by enforcing at their work address, as they are highly unlikely to have any assets at that address.
The sole exception to this might be a car, although looking for one car in a large company carpark or on street parking brings to mind needles and haystacks. The chances of finding the car would be higher at the home address outside working hours (HCEOs can enforce between 06:00 and 21:00 seven days a week).
If the judgment debtor is a director of a company, the HCEO can still only take control of the goods belonging to the debtor, as the limited company assets do not belong to the director.
Enforcing at a home office
An HCEO can enforce a judgment against a limited company operating from a director’s home address. However, in this instance, he may only take control of goods belonging to the company, not the director. The exception to this would be if the director had provided a personal guarantee.
In the case of a sole trader, tools of the trade above £1,350 and personal goods are eligible for seizure by the HCEO from a home office and the home.
Forcing entry to residential premises
HCEOs are not permitted to force entry to residential premises unless they have permission from the court. There would need to be good cause for the court to permit this – we have some examples where we have been granted permission, which we will cover in a separate article.
If the judgment is against a company operating from a home office, the HCEO is still not permitted to force entry to the property, unless the home office is in a completely separate detached building. Even then he will proceed with caution.