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Both County Court Bailiffs and High Court Enforcement Officers are types of court-appointed enforcement agents. They collect unpaid debts on behalf creditors.
Enforcement agents have limited legal powers, via warrants and writs of control respectively, to remove and sell goods to recover debts and fees owed by a debtor. Smaller claims are dealt with in the County Court and the High Court handles higher value claims.
County Court Bailiffs are directly employed by the County Court. High Court Enforcement Officers are private sector agents authorised by the Ministry of Justice to enforce High Court orders and any County Court order that has been transferred to the High Court for enforcement.
Enforcement agents’ powers
County Court Bailiffs must follow strict guidelines when collecting a debt. Once instructed, the agent normally contacts the debtor to give them seven days’ notice to pay the debt. If they fail to pay, the agent can visit the debtor’s home or premises.
If allowed in, but the debt is not paid, the agent can take assets owned, or jointly owned, by the debtor to the value of the debt. These may be sold to offset the amount owed. They cannot, however, recover items that are needed for “basic domestic needs”, such as clothes, furniture, beds and bedding, ovens or fridges. They are also not allowed to take work tools or equipment items up to a value of £1,350.
Bailiffs can usually only enter a person’s home if allowed in. They cannot enter using force, or if only children under 16 or vulnerable persons are present. They also cannot come into your home between the hours of 9pm and 6am.
High Court Enforcement Officers have similar but more extensive powers. For example, while County Court Bailiffs have to first send notice to a debtor before visiting, the High Court Enforcement Officer can attend unannounced. In some cases, they can force entry to a business premises. As private sector agents, they are paid upon results. Because of these differences, they are often considered to be more successful.
Instructing enforcement agents to recover debt
Once a claim for debt is made and a judgment obtained, an enforcement agent can be appointed.
Debts below £600 must be enforced in the County Court, as should agreements regulated by the Consumer Credit Act 1974 (if under £25,000), such as credit cards, personal loans or overdrafts. County Court Bailiffs can enforce a judgment up to £5,000 but, if the debt is for more than £5000, the judgment must be transferred to the High Court for execution. The High Court enforcement route can be taken if the judgment is for £600 or above.
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