One of the areas considered in the Government’s consultation on bailiff action is the way in which an enforcement officer can gain access to premises. Forced entry to residential premises is not permitted on the initial visit, and there are no plans to change this.
New streamlined procedures that make it easier for landlords to use a High Court Enforcement Officer (HCEO) to evict residential tenants came into force on 23rd August 2020.
However, there are proposed changes to how an enforcement officer may gain access to the debtor’s home to enforce a judgment against them.
Currently the officer may do the following to gain access to residential property while enforcing a writ of fieri facias:
- Climb a perimeter wall or fence
- Enter through an open door
- Enter through an unlocked door by opening it without the use of force
- Enter through an open or partly open window (but not by unfastening a closed window, even if unlocked)
The Transforming Bailiff Action consultation has proposed that the rights of entry be changed so that the enforcement agent will no longer be able to gain access via a window. It is not clear whether this change would also relate to commercial premises.
This concerns me somewhat. In the vast majority of cases, entering through a window is not necessary because access is either gained via a door, or the enforcement is satisfactorily concluded outside the main premises.
But there are some cases where the debtor is determined to go to great lengths to prevent the execution of the writ. It is in these situations that this proposed change to the rights of entry will have a negative impact on the enforcement of a writ, and therefore also on the claimant.
We had just one such example last week. When our enforcement officer knocked on the door, the debtor claimed to be someone else, although our officer knew this was not the case. The debtor then shut and locked the front door, remotely shut and locked the external gates and sat down to continue eating his breakfast, leaving our officer locked inside the grounds!
Our officer called the police, who duly arrived and told the debtor to open the gates to let him out. However, our man found an open upstairs window and a ladder and advised the police that he would be entering that way. He did gain entry, and, as the police told the debtor, it was lawful. We obtained payment of a sizeable portion of the debt, which was for tens of thousands of pounds.
This is an unusual situation, but it does clearly demonstrate that removing a peaceable entry option makes the work of enforcing against a debtor who is determined to avoid paying the money a court has judged that he owes, that much harder.