Creditors who are not paid can access a variety of enforcement mechanisms to enforce a judgment. One of these is High Court Enforcement, where a High Court Enforcement Officer (HCEO) is instructed to collect goods if payment is not made.
There are a number of TV programmes devoted to showing the actions of HCEOs, or bailiffs as they are often called, who are typically shown collecting unpaid judgment sums from individuals and collecting assets such as cars and business equipment.
But did you know that HCEOs can also collect assets such as livestock, seeds and crops, even those still growing, to satisfy a judgment debt?
If faced with the appearance of a HCEO, what should businesses in the agriculture sector do?
Here are our top tips:
- Make sure you don’t ignore demands or county court proceedings. If someone you owe money to obtains a default judgment, they can instruct HCEOs which adds significant cost to the debt, but if you respond to the claim and tell the Court if you need more time, this can prevent enforcement. Do open your post regularly as there are often strict deadlines involved.
- Keep receipts and useful paperwork handy so you can access it if you need it, as well as keeping asset registers up to date. HCEOs can only take goods which belong to the judgment debtor. Third party assets or assets leased or hired cannot be collected by HCEOs – but it may be necessary to prove when something is not available for collection. HCEOs cannot take control of goods subject to an Agricultural Charge either.
- As an individual, if you are vulnerable in some way, for example due to being disabled or elderly, do bring this to the HCEO’s attention as national standards for HCEOs require them to act appropriately where a vulnerable person is involved.
- Don’t be aggressive, but do be polite and firm, particularly if there is something you need to bring to their attention, such as a mistake on the part of the creditor or if an asset does not belong to the specific judgment debtor named on the writ.
- If your business is experiencing financial difficulties, consider consulting an insolvency practitioner, as some insolvency processes prevent HCEOs from taking control of goods and there may be a way to achieve a more orderly realisation and distribution of assets for the benefit of all creditors.
If in any doubt, take advice from a specialist, trusted advisor.