What 2024 has in store for High Court enforcement
There is a great deal of activity relating to the enforcement sector on the horizon for 2024, including proposed increases to both enforcement and court fees, potential changes to the Jurisdiction Order, the impact of the Enforcement Conduct Board and ongoing digitisation of the court system.
Digitisation of the court system
The digitisation of the court system, launched by Lord Justice Briggs in 2016, is expected to make further progress in 2024.
In November 2023, the Online Procedure Rule Committee was launched. This is a fundamental component of court digitisation. We expect that both the High Court Enforcement Officers Association (HCEOA) and the Civil Court Users Association (CCUA) will get involved in this initiative.
Digitisation is intended to increase efficiencies and access to justice for all court users and is required to open up the Jurisdiction Order.
The HCEOA, of which Alan J Smith FCICM is the Chair, is championing a change to the Jurisdiction Order 1991 to allow all judgments to be enforced by a High Court Enforcement Officer (HCEO).
Currently, HCEOs may only enforce judgments of £600 and above. And are not permitted to enforce Consumer Credit Act regulated debts (unless they are for £25,000 or more).
The HCEOA has run several surveys of the industry, including the legal profession, HCEOs and court users. Each time, the response has been a resounding “yes”, with 99% of respondents supporting change to the Jurisdiction Order to permit freedom of choice.
For 97%, this was driven by concerns when it comes to recovering debts using County Court Bailiffs (CCB). 70% said their needs are ‘very poorly’ met when it comes to CCBs collecting debts under £600.
The HCEOA will continue to pursue this change throughout 2024 and may send out another survey – please do support this by giving your input.
At HCE Group, we think it likely that any change to the Jurisdiction Order would come after the enforcement fee review, as a fee schedule for sub-£600 debts would be required.
Enforcement fee consultation
In the second half of 2023, the Ministry of Justice published proposals for the long-awaited review of enforcement fees.
The enforcement fees are laid out in the Taking Control of Goods (Fees) Regulations 2014 and the intention at that time was that the fees would be reviewed annually.
10 years on and there has still been no change to the fee schedule, despite inflation, which has been particularly high over the last 18 months.
As a result of the MoJ’s proposals, a consultation with the industry was launched. This closed in early December 2023 and we await the next stage response from the MoJ. We hope that the final conclusions will be fair and balanced.
Court fee increases
Separately to the enforcement fees consultation, the MoJ is also considering increasing court fees.
Over the last decade, court fees (some or all) were increased in 2014, 2016 and 2021. The current proposal is that up to 202 court fees be increased by 10% and that there be a routine full or partial inflation-based increase every two years going forward.
The consultation period on court fee increases closed in December 2023.
Enforcement Conduct Board
The ECB is now well established and introduced accreditation for enforcement companies in late 2023. We find it very encouraging that the majority of enforcement companies are now accredited, including all the companies within High Court Enforcement Group. The accredited companies are responsible for 97.5% of all writs issued by HCEOs in England and Wales.
Part of the ECB’s remit is standards of enforcement, so their next step is likely to be a review of the National Standards, to ensure they are up-to-date and relevant for the industry going forward.
Body worn video
The consultation on the compulsory use of body worn video (BWV) by enforcement agents is yet to go ahead. Given all the focus on fees, if this does happen in 2024, we would expect this to be later in the year.
We wholeheartedly support the use of BWV and all our enforcement agents have been using this technology for many years.
As these initiatives progress through this year, we will keep you updated on developments.