When a High Court Enforcement Officer (HCEO) is attending judgment debtors’ premises to enforce a writ of fieri facias (fi fa), their primary goal is to collect the money that is owing under the writ. They will do this by firstly seizing goods or assets to the value of the writ (debt, judgment interest and court fees) and enforcement costs. The debtor, to avoid losing their goods, at this point normally offers to make a payment.
Payment in full
Ideally, the debtor will make full payment there and then. The Sheriffs Office only accepts payment by credit or debit card – all their enforcement officers carry chip ‘n’ pin machines – or banker’s draft, to make sure that the debtor cannot subsequently cancel the payment. Bank transfers are also widely used. Cheques are rarely accepted, and we believe that this is a widespread collection officer’s industry practice. Once cleared funds have been received, the seized goods will be released back to the judgment debtor.
Cannot pay at all
If the debtor cannot pay, then the enforcement officer will seize goods up to the value of the writ, where possible, and the debtor will be asked to make a payment proposal, which would have to be agreed by the creditor. The officer will normally leave the goods at the debtor’s premises, having obtained a signed Walking Possession Agreement, unless he believes there is a risk to the goods of leaving them in situ, in which case he will arrange for their removal. If the creditor refuses the proposal or the debtor defaults on the agreement, the officer can re-attend, forcing entry if necessary and remove the seized goods, which will then be sold at auction.
Can only pay in part
The debtor may be able to pay some but not all of the debt now and might propose an installment plan to clear the debt. The enforcement officer will take the initial payment straight away, and report back to the creditor with the debtor’s proposal. Even if the creditor agrees to the payment plan, the goods will remain seized and liable for removal and sale should the debtor not make further payments or clear the debt within the agreed timescale. As with every seizure, a Walking Possession Agreement will need to be in place, until full payment has been made or the goods are removed.
Enforcement where a debtor defaults on a Court agreed installment plan
If, as part of the judgment, the debtor and creditor agreed to an installment payment plan, then there would only be a need for a writ of fi fa and action by an HCEO if the debtor defaults on the installments. The creditor can transfer the judgment to the High Court for enforcement, obtain the writ of fi fa and instruct an HCEO to enforce in the normal way.
(Martin Button is the Managing Director of UK Vending (Britain’s longest serving vending business),
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