When executing a writ, the High Court Enforcement Officer (HCEO) will seize goods for later sale to recover the debt if the debtor is unwilling or unable to pay. However, the HCEO does not need to physically remove the goods there and then. In fact, the Lord Chancellor has stated that he prefers if the goods are left in situ and are only removed straight away when the HCEO deems it necessary to safeguard the goods.
The walking possession agreement
When leaving the goods at the premises, the HCEO provides a Walking Possession Agreement. This is a document that states that he has taken possession of the goods and that the goods will remain in his custody until the debt and all costs have been paid. The debtor may not sell or remove the goods, nor may he let any one else do so.
The walking possession agreement also obtains the debtor’s permission to re-enter at any time and as often as they need to inspect the goods and remove them. The agreement allows the HCEO to re-enter by force if necessary.
Once the walking possession agreement is signed, the HCEO should leave a copy with the debtor. The debtor cannot sell them now, and if he does, the HCEO can seize the goods from the purchaser, even if the purchaser did not know the goods had been seized.
When the debtor refuses to sign
If the debtor refuses to sign the walking possession agreement, the HCEO can obtain a signature from any responsible person at the premises. If no one will sign it, then the HCEO will most probably remove the goods there and then to safeguard them but may require an indemnity from the claimant before doing so.
Payment by instalments
If the creditor and debtor reach an agreement on an instalment payment plan, then the goods remain seized under the walking possession order until the debt and costs are paid in full. Once that happens, the ownership of the goods returns to the debtor. If, however, the debtor falls behind in the instalments, the creditor can decide to have the goods covered by the walking possession agreement removed and sold.
Third Party Ownership
If the HCEO seizes goods that do not belong to the debtor or are under a hire purchase agreement, then the third party needs to provide evidence of this to reclaim them. This should be made in accordance with RSC Order 17 Rule 2 and may end in interpleader proceedings at court where a judge will decide ownership.
David is the former CEO of The Sheriffs Office.