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i The advice on this page applies to residents in England and Wales only.

High Court enforcement officers. What can they do?

If you live in England or Wales and your creditor has a County Court judgment (CCJ) against you, in some cases they can use a High Court enforcement officer (HCEO) to collect the debt.

If you live elsewhere in the UK, see our pages on Scottish court action or Northern Irish court action for what creditors can do in your country.

The HCEO is a type of enforcement agent or bailiff. They’ll visit your property and if you don’t make an agreement to pay the debt, they can remove goods to sell at auction.

A creditor can use HCEOs if:

  • You have a CCJ and you’ve not made the payments the court told you to make in the judgment
  • Your debt is over £600
  • Your debt is not regulated by the Consumer Credit Act

This means HCEOs can’t enforce debts like credit cards, overdrafts, payday loans or personal loans. But they can deal with non-regulated debts such as utility arrears, business debts, tribunal awards or old rent arrears.

If you’ve had a visit from a HCEO officer, or a letter saying they’re going to come, call us for more advice straight away. This is a sign that you need help dealing with your debts. A HCEO will usually act quickly and can be difficult to deal with on your own.

Why would a creditor use High Court enforcement officers?

There are several advantages to a creditor using HCEOs rather than County Court enforcement agents:

  • Once the debt has been passed to HCEOs, the creditor can add 8% interest
  • HCEO fees are much higher, which can put people under more pressure to pay the debt
  • HCEOs can be much harder to stop
  • HCEOs are employed by a private company, and are paid based on the amount they collect. Many creditors feel HCEOs are faster and more effective because of this

How does a High Court enforcement officer get involved?

First the creditor will apply for a writ of control, which tells the HCEO to visit your property and get payment or take your goods.

You’ll get a notice of enforcement letter from the HCEO telling you that they’re going to call. They have to give you at least seven days’ notice before their first visit.

The HCEO will visit your home and usually ask you to pay the debt in full. If you can’t do this, they’ll look for goods which can be taken into control until the debt is paid. They may also visit your business premises if you’re self-employed.

Taking control of goods involves the HCEO making a list of items that they’ll remove and sell if you don’t pay the debt. The goods they can or can’t remove are the same as other types of enforcement agent.

Usually they’ll let you keep the goods and pay the debt off in instalments. If you miss any instalments they’ll come back and remove the goods to sell them. This is called a controlled goods agreement.

Sometimes they’ll take goods straight away, especially if they can find a large item such as a car which can be sold to clear the debt immediately, or if they think you might remove or sell the controlled goods before you’ve paid off the debt. They can also clamp your vehicle to stop you driving it.

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Can High Court bailiffs force entry?

High Court enforcement officers (HCEOs) will try to enter your home to look for goods, but they can’t force their way in on the first visit.

This means they can’t:

  • push past you
  • put a foot in the door to stop you closing it
  • climb through a window or skylight.

However, if they’ve previously been in your home and listed goods in a controlled goods agreement, they can use force to come in again if you don’t pay them what you agreed to pay.

The rules are different at commercial premises. If you run your own business, the HCEO can, if they've secured a warrant, use force to break into the business premises if you don’t let them in. Read more guides to court action by creditors.

What should I do if a High Court enforcement officer contacts me?

I can afford to pay the debt in full

If you can afford to pay the debt in full before the HCEO first visits the property, you should do this. This will keep the costs to a minimum.

I can afford to pay the debt in instalments

You should send your offer of payment in writing to the HCEO and send a copy to the creditor. Enclose a copy of your budget. You should start making payments at the rate you’ve offered, even if the HCEO doesn’t reply.

If they refuse your offer of payment, you may need to consider increasing it, especially if the HCEO has already visited and taken control of your goods. You could also apply for a stay of execution.

I don’t know what I can afford to pay

If you need help putting together a budget and working out what to offer to the HCEO, view our making a budget page.

What fees can High Court enforcement officers charge?

All enforcement agents add fees to your debt, but HCEOs have a different scale of fees. These fees are set in law.

If you have a debt of £1,000, when all the fees have been added on, the debt will total at least £2,285.

Breakdown of High Court enforcement officers’ fees

  • £75 added when the ‘notice of enforcement’ letter is sent
  • £190 +7.5% of the debt value over £1,000 added when the HCEO first visits
  • £495 added if you refuse to make an arrangement to pay, or if you make an arrangement to pay but break it
  • £525 +7.5% of the debt value over £1,000 if the HCEO comes back to remove your goods
  • Other storage and auction costs

If you think your HCEO fees haven't been charged correctly, you should seek debt advice.

Read more guides to dealing with bailiffs and enforcement agents.

How can I stop High Court enforcement officers?

If you can’t come to an arrangement to pay off the debt in instalments, you can apply to the court using the N244 court form to stop the HCEOs. This is called a ‘stay of execution’.

The court won’t always agree to the stay of execution. Make sure you include all the details the court needs to understand your situation, including:

If you need help applying for a stay of execution, contact us.