Thank you to all who took part in our recent webinar on the eviction of squatters, protesters and activists.
What are the main differences between eviction from a building and eviction from open land?
With the eviction of squatters from a building, planning the method of entry to make sure we have the right people and equipment is critical, particularly as the site is likely to be barricaded and there are often booby traps.
We also need to take into account the state the building might be in, both in terms of services such as water and electricity – we have found the two in dangerously close proximity on occasion – as well as hazardous substances. We evicted squatters from a building with asbestos last year and required a specialist on site to ensure everyone’s safety.
In the case of land, the method of entry requirements are likely to be quite different. There may be many ways of accessing the site, which makes entry easier, but of course makes it more challenging to secure the site after the eviction.
We will also need to take into account boundary hazards such as railway lines, rivers and roads, define the boundary by checking with Land Registry and have plans in place to remove vehicles and animals.
On land, protesters may be inside tunnels or up trees. They may have locked themselves onto something, and the eviction team will need to be able to release them safely without putting their own person in danger.
One other difference is the authority under which the eviction takes place. Eviction of persons unknown from a property is carried out under a writ of possession, whereas eviction from land can be either under a writ or under Common Law. In the case of local authorities, Government advice is that they should evict under the authority of a writ.
Is there an abortive fee to pay if the squatters voluntarily leave the premises after formally instructing the Sheriffs Office? If so, what is it?
There is no regulated fee, but most High Court Enforcement Officer (HCEO) firms will include the right to charge a cancellation fee, which is likely to depend on how much notice of cancellation is given and what resources have already been committed to at the time. You should check the HCEO’s terms of business before entering into a contract for eviction services.
How in practice do you deal with livestock on a site, bearing in mind that green yards may be unwilling to take in the animals through fear of reprisals?
Our normal practice is to recce the site prior to carrying out the eviction, so that we will know if there is livestock present. We will then arrange for transport and accommodation in advance, following the guidelines set out in the Control of Horses Act 2015. We have not come across yards unwilling to take the livestock.
Do you ever agree with the protestors?
We certainly respect the right to protest, but when we are instructed to enforce a writ to remove protesters, it is our role to do so in a safe and respectful manner, leaving our personal opinions, whatever they may be, to one side.
How long does a writ of possession last for?
The writ is valid for 12 months or until the property has been handed back to the owner within that 12 month period.
If we obtain a writ of possession against persons unknown and the eviction is successful, can we use the same writ of possession if the squatters return some time later?
You cannot use the same writ of possession, however you can apply for a writ of restitution, which is a writ in aid of another writ. It is issued by a Master – the HCEO will normally manage the application process on your behalf – and is then enforced in the same way as a writ of possession. The court fee for a writ of restitution is currently £71.
The Court will give leave to issue the writ of restitution, against “persons unknown”, even where the re-occupation is not by the same persons and indeed after quite a period of time, provided that a sufficient link can be shown to the Master between the two events.
Do you work as County Court Bailiffs or only to enforce possessions granted by the High Court Enforcement?
We are not County Court Bailiffs, we are High Court Enforcement Officers (HCEO).
If a possession order is made against persons unknown in the County Court, it may be transferred to the High Court for enforcement under a writ of possession by an HCEO. Only HCEOs can enforce writs of possession where the possession order was made in the High Court.
As HCEOs, we also enforce other writs, including writs of control and writs of delivery.
David is an authorised High Court Enforcement Officer and our Director of Corporate Governance