I have been asked recently about whether residential landlords should use High Court Enforcement Officers (HCEO) instead of county court bailiffs (CCB) to evict tenants from residential property.
Here is my open and frank insight into this service.
Why would you need to use an HCEO?
Unfortunately, due to significant cuts in the Court Service, the delays in enforcing an order for possession by a CCB are usually considerable, often ranging from 6 to 16 weeks. We have heard of one court recently quoting nearer to six months.
In comparison, most HCEOs can carry out an eviction within days.
What law is used to transfer the eviction to an HCEO?
Under Section 42 of the County Court Act 1984, a matter can be transferred to the High Court for enforcement.
The possession order itself remains with the County Court, it is just the enforcement aspect that is transferred to the High Court, as is the case with judgments for money or possession orders against “persons unknown”.
Is the tenant always notified of the eviction date?
A CCB will always send notification of an impending eviction. This will allow the tenant to prepare for the eviction and making other arrangements for housing and hopefully packing and leaving before the day of the eviction. However, some would argue that it allows the tenant time to delay proceedings, initiating further court applications with the sole intent of buying time (and costing the landlord more in the process).
At present, HCEOs are not required to give such notice although I believe it sensible to do so. At The Sheriffs Office, we will take instruction from the landlord as to whether we will send notification first.
How do you request permission to use an HCEO?
The decision to permit the transfer of enforcement to the High Court is, ultimately, at the discretion of the judge.
We find significant inconsistencies across different courts, although it is clear to us that requesting this in your initial application for possession provides better results than requesting it after the order has been granted.
The request MUST include the reason for the transfer. This will almost certainly be the delays by the CCB and the loss of income and potential damage to the property. We are happy to give advice on wording – you can read suggested wording in this article.
You will make your application using Form N244.
What happens after you get your S42 transfer?
If the tenants don’t leave before the possession date, you can now instruct an HCEO, who will apply for the writ of possession (a court fee of £66 is payable), and then conduct the eviction.
Is it more expensive to use an HCEO than a CCB?
In a word, yes. HCEOs charge anywhere from £300 to around £800 for a standard residential eviction compared to the £110 for a CCB. It’s a commercial decision and will come down to whether you are prepared to lose the potential rental income from the CCB delays.
Can you also recover rent arrears?
If you are also owed rent arrears on the property, you can add a claim for money to the possession order, so that you do not need to apply separately for a judgment and writ of control.
It is worth bearing in mind, however, that since April 2014, HCEOs must give 7 clear days’ notice of the intention to enforce the debt aspect.
If you had not intended to notify the tenant of the eviction, this would alert them to a visit. You might want to base your decision on the likelihood of there being goods of sufficient value on site to cover the arrears – in our experience this is seldom the case.
Are there other advantages to using an HCEO?
HCEOs are often more determined than the CCB and will succeed where the occupants are difficult, sometimes barricading themselves in, climbing onto roofs and assaulting enforcement agents.
So, who should you use?
If the CCB can do the job promptly and your tenants will not put up too much of a fight, that is the obvious way to go.
But if there are going to be delays and you cannot afford to lose rental income, the HCEO might well be the better option.