Can HCEOs enter 3rd party premises to enforce?
By David Carter Managing Director of The Sheriffs Office
The writ of fieri facias (fi fa) instructs the High Court Enforcement Officer (HCEO) to seize goods belonging to the debtor and remove them for sale, usually at auction, to raise money to cover the debt and costs. In practice, the goods are rarely actually removed, they are normally left in situ under a signed Walking Possession Agreement.
3rd party premises
The first port of call for enforcement is normally the debtor’s residence – or company offices if the debtor is a business.
However, if the HCEO has a genuine reason to believe that goods belong to the debtor have been moved to premises owned by a third party – perhaps to prevent them from being seized – then the HCEO is entitled to enter the third party’s premises to seize the debtor’s goods. If the third party claims the goods belong to him, then he will need to provide documented proof.
However, the HCEO does need to be sure the debtor’s goods are there.
Forcible entry to commercial premises
HCEOs are permitted to enter commercial premises - where there are no residential premises attached – by force. This right extends to third party premises where the HCEO believes goods are being held. Naturally this is a last resort for the HCEO, who will try his utmost to gain peaceful entry first and will only attempt entry by force if he has been refused entry. It is also prudent to make enquiries as to the ownership of the premises before force is used.
Where the debtor is deceased, the HCEO can enter the premises of the personal representative of the deceased. In this case, these premises are not considered to be those of a third party, because it would be a natural place to find the deceased debtor’s goods.
If entry is subsequently deemed unlawful, for whatever reason, the seizure and removal of the goods under the writ of fi fa will still be lawful.
Disclaimer: The statements and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Sheriffs High Court Enforcement Ltd, trading as The Sheriffs Office. Sheriffs High Court Enforcement Ltd does not take any responsibility for the views of the author. The author will not be held responsible for any comments posted by visitors to this site.
Please note that this article does not constitute legal advice. The author has used his best endeavours to make this article as accurate and complete as possible, but requests that the reader be aware that the law of England and Wales frequently changes. The author strongly advises the reader to take legal advice before embarking on any enforcement action.
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