Making a valid seizure of goods
By David Carter, Managing Director of the Sheriffs Office.
If you have gone to all the trouble of pursuing a debt, obtaining a judgment and transferring it to the High Court for enforcement, you want to be sure that the High Court Enforcement Officer (HCEO) that you have appointed will do a proper and professional job of recovering the debt. This is to ensure that there is the best chance of successful enforcement, and also that there are no grounds to have the enforcement declared invalid.
Valid judgment and writ
If the judgment or writ is quite old, check it is still valid before starting enforcement action. A judgment is valid for six years and a writ for twelve months. If the writ is about to expire, you might want to renew it. The judge may ask you to justify why you are attempting enforcement at such a late stage after the writ was issued.
The enforcement officer should attend the address detailed on the writ, or any other he is directed to by the creditor. This attendance should be at the appropriate time of day, avoiding bank holidays. The debtor does not need to be present for seizure to take place. If the only person available is a child under 12, the officer must not enter the property. However a seizure of goods outside the property is possible and the Notice should be posted through the door.
In the case of residential premises, entry can be peaceable through an open door or window, but may be forced into outbuildings and a detached garage. Force maybe used to enter commercial premises without notice (as long as there are no residential premises attached).
Seize the right goods
There are a number of goods that are exempt from seizure, notably goods required for basic living, for example bedding, basic cooking utensils, items clearly belonging to children and tools of the trade belonging to a sole trader (this does not apply to directors or employees of limited companies).
The officer should do his best to establish that the goods seized belong wholly or partly to the judgment debtor. If they belong to a third party, they may be subject to an interpleader claim.
It is important that a detailed inventory of the goods seized is written on the Notice of Seizure. This may include the make, model, colour, serial number, product code and description of the goods seized but this is not essential. It is however important that, if the HCEO returns to remove the goods, they can be identified. It is good practice for photographs to be taken to aid identification of the seized goods.
Signed Walking Possession Agreement
Once the goods have been seized, the enforcement officer will ask for a walking possession agreement to be signed, however a WPA does not need to be signed for the seizure to be valid. The WPA obtains agreement that the goods are now in the possession of the HCEO and may not be removed or sold without the HCEO's permission. A signed WPA also permits the enforcement officer to reattend to check or remove goods, forcing entry if necessary.
The WPA does not need to be signed by the judgment debtor; it can be signed by any responsible adult. If no one at the premises will sign the WPA, then the officer may decide to remove the goods to ensure the seizure is protected. The debtor should think carefully before refusing to sign a WPA, as often there is little choice but to remove and there will be additional costs incurred by the removal and subsequent storage, which he will be liable for.
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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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