The High Court Enforcement Officers Association (HCEOA) has been aware for some time of the significant delays that can be experienced when using county court bailiffs.
If a judgment is for a debt below £600 or is a debt occurring from an agreement regulated by the Consumer Credit Act 1974, a county court bailiff is the only option available to enforce the judgment.
The issues highlighted by the HCEOA include County Court Bailiffs being under-staffed, under-funded and under-motivated. The delays experienced first hand by many creditors mean that justice is not served as quickly and efficiently, this undermines the credibility of the system and frustration is the inevitable outcome.
Increasing pressure on the system to enable effective and efficient enforcement
The county court system is at breaking point and the problems are only going to intensify if the trend continues of an increased workload. There are several factors which may influence this such as increasing interest rates, rises in unemployment and the long-term impact of Brexit.
What is the solution?
There are several suggestions that have been made: the first is a unified enforcement system whereby the county court Bailiffs and High Court Enforcement Officers are combined, and all work is undertaken under the branch of the county court system. At the HCEOA we feel that this is not a viable solution given that the HM Government would need to make significant changes to legislation as well as funding.
The second option is that HCEOs be given the power to enforce judgments that can only be currently enforced by county court bailiffs, this would include regulated debts and those for under £600. This option would require fewer changes and could be rolled out by simply amending the relevant sections of the Jurisdiction Order 1991 and could be swiftly implemented. The stumbling block for this option is that the fees levied by the High Court option are higher, this would be particularly significant for the smaller debts below £600. This option would then also potentially require a change to the fees and charges involved if this was deemed necessary.
Another possibility is that HCEOs could execute warrants of control on behalf of the county court bailiffs. This again would mean that fee structures would have to be looked at and possibly changed. There would also be issues arising from the accountability of HCEOs undertaking this work under the umbrella of the county court or HMCTS.
The best solution for effective and efficient enforcement
Other possibilities were discussed and they all have advantages and disadvantages. The HCEOA does, however, feel that the second option of an amendment to the Jurisdiction Order 1991 would be the quickest and simplest to implement with the county court bailiffs and High Court enforcement officers retaining their differences and current working conditions and obligations.
The full report can be found here