Despite sounding like a somewhat lethal removals company, these are three steps High Court Enforcement Officers (HCEO) often undertake when enforcing a High Court writ.

The writ instructs the Enforcement Agent (EA) to seize – now called taking control of goods - belonging to the debtor to recover the judgment debt, the court costs and his fees, but this does not automatically mean the goods will be removed.

Taking control of goods

In our recent enforcement against the F1 company Caterham Sports Limited, we did remove and store a large number of items.

However, what is less widely known is that this was our second attendance to enforce the writ against the company. On our first visit we had been promised payment and shown a completed foreign bank transfer which was due to reach our client account within 3 days.

We had previously successfully enforced another writ against the same company so decided to take control of the goods and leave them in situ under a Controlled Goods Agreement.

Controlled goods agreement

This is a document that states that the goods are now under the control of the HCEO and may not be sold or removed by the debtor. It is a criminal offence for the debtor to intentionally interfere with goods taken into control under Paragraph 68(2) of Schedule 12 of the Tribunals, Courts and Enforcement Act 2007. If found guilty, the debtor will be liable for a prison sentence of up to 51 weeks month, and or a Level 4 fine (currently £2,500).

The goods remain in the control of the HCEO until either the debtor clears the debt and costs, in which case they are returned to the debtor, or they are sold to cover the debt, when title passes to the new owner.

Removal of controlled goods

The EA attending to enforce the writ will make a decision on whether to remove the goods or leave them in situ. He will base his decision primarily on whether he considers the goods to be in jeopardy, the costs of removal and how likely it is that the debtor will pay the judgment debt.

In this case, despite the provision of a completed bank transfer the money never arrived.

Storage of controlled goods

If goods are removed, they will be taken into secure storage, often at the premises of an auction house. There may be removal and storage costs, which the EA will take into consideration before taking this step. These obviously depend on the actual items – in an episode of The Sheriffs Are Coming, the EA removed a large number of diamonds which was far more straightforward than the removal of the Caterham Sports goods.

If you are the creditor or the creditor’s solicitor and have reason to believe the goods may be at risk, please let the HCEO know at the point of instruction or as soon as you learn anything that may give you cause for concern.

What next?

This will depend on a variety of factors, the most common being whether the sums due are paid or if there is any other form of court action. Common examples are Insolvency (as in this case) or a third party claim to the ownership of the goods.

Dependant on the above, the goods will either be sold at public auction to the highest bidder, sold by private treaty to a specific party (common for unusual or rare goods) or held pending the outcome of the court action.

You can read more about how goods are sold in this article.

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