Enforcement: 5 Questions About Using Bailiffs
This is the fourth article in the enforcement series and will cover how you can enforce your money judgment by instructing enforcement agents (bailiffs) to take control of the debtor’s goods and sell them at auction to cover the outstanding amount.
Click on the following links to access the other articles in the series (please note the first article on Charging Orders provides an explanation of some of the terms used in the rest of the series of articles):
- 5 Questions about Charging Orders
- 5 Questions about Third Party Debt Orders (TPDOs)
- 5 Questions about Attachment of Earnings Orders (AEOs)
Before deciding whether to proceed with this method of enforcement, the creditor should first consider what assets the debtor has that are capable of being sold and where there is sufficient value in those goods to satisfy the judgment.
1. What does it mean to take control of goods?
A creditor can obtain a ‘writ of control’ (from the High Court) or a ‘warrant of control’ (from the County Court) which allows an enforcement officer (a bailiff) to take goods belonging to the debtor up to the value of the judgment and sell them, with the proceeds going to the creditor.
2. What goods can be taken?
Usually any goods that belong to the debtor can be seized. This provides a great amount of flexibility with the process and, with enforcement agents being able to check the ownership status of vehicles through the DVLA quickly, items that potentially have significant value can be taken.
However, goods that are not fully owned by the debtor (for example, vehicles on lease) and items that are fixed to land or property cannot be taken.
There are also restrictions on certain categories of items that relate to the debtor’s work and home life, including (but not limited to):
- If the debtor is employed (either self-employed or an employee) items relating to work cannot be taken e.g. tools or company laptops (however, this is subject to financial limits).
- Items required for the debtor’s (and his / her family’s) basic domestic needs including clothing, furniture, cooking equipment, beds etc.
- A vehicle on which a valid disabled person’s badge is displayed because it is used for, or there is reason to believe that is it used for, a disabled person.
3. How do you get one and what happens afterwards?
The relevant application form will need to be completed and sent to either the High Court or County Court (depending on whether a writ or warrant is requested, the type of judgment and the amount of the judgment debt itself) with the required Court fee.
Once obtained, the sealed writ or warrant needs to be delivered to the enforcement agent. Three stages will then be carried out:
- Notice will be sent to the debtor to give 7 days for the judgment to be paid in full;
- If payment is not received (either in full or part) after those 7 days, the enforcement agent will then have 12 months from that date to enter the debtor’s premises to seize goods;
- After entering the premises, the enforcement agent must provide a notice for the debtor to give information on what the agent is doing and, if applicable, provide an inventory of goods that have been seized.
4. How quickly can I get one?
The process to obtain the writ or warrant is quick and may only take a few weeks, with a further week to allow for the Stage 1 notice (see question 3 above) to expire before an enforcement agent can attend the debtor’s property.
With regards to when the application needs to be made, this can be done at any time after the judgment has been obtained but note that permission from the Court may be required if the application is made over 6 years from the judgment date and an explanation for the delay may need to be given to the Court.
5. How do I get my money?
The debtor will need to either pay the judgment debt (in full or in instalments) or allow goods to be sold to cover the debt. The pressure of an enforcement agent’s attendance(s) may help to encourage swift payment to avoid goods being seized. The debtor will also be liable for the additional costs and fees incurred by the enforcement agent as a result of each attendance at the debtor’s property, which will be added onto the judgment debt and recoverable from the debtor.
This article was written by Danny Patel, a Solicitor in the Commercial Dispute Resolution team.
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