Send in the Sherriff!
Here in the GA office we are big fans of the popular BBC series ‘The Sheriffs Are Coming’ and today the third series will be hitting our TV screens.
This show offers a timely reminder to all those who are owed money under a court judgment of the ability of the High Court Sheriff to recover what is rightfully owed to them.
As a landlord and tenant specialist, I particularly feel that landlords should be aware of how much can be achieved by appointing the sheriff in relation to rent arrears and their ability to pursue a tenant and a guarantor (if there is one) for rent due under a tenancy agreement. Indeed, I have recommended to a number of my clients that they should utilise the sheriff’s office and it has proven very successful.
The landlord will first need to sue and obtain a County Court Judgment. Where the judgment is for a sum of £600 or more, the judgment may be enforced in the High Court under a Writ. This authorises a sheriff’s officer to attend the debtor’s premises and seize and sell assets if payment is not made, or a satisfactory payment proposal put forward. Unlike their County Court counterparts, the officers from the sheriff’s office are not restricted to typical ‘office hour’ visits (Monday to Friday, between 9am and 5pm). They can also attend at weekends, early in the morning or late in the evening – at times when debtors are more likely to be at home. Furthermore, a sheriff’s officer is not required to give advance notice of their visit (unlike the County Court Bailiff) so there is the added element of surprise.
The threat of seizure of assets by a sheriff’s officer can have a considerable impact and the officer may be able to persuade the debtor to pay up there and then. Should this be the case, they are equipped with a card machine to take a credit or debit card payments or to even facilitate payment by bank transfer.
If the debtor genuinely wishes to pay but does not have the means to do so in full when the officer visits, a payment plan can be agreed if the creditor is willing to accept instalments. The debtor is asked to sign a document known as a ‘walk-in possession agreement’. This agreement allows the sheriff’s officer to return at a later date and seize any items he has listed should the debtor default on the arrangement.
It is worth highlighting that whilst a sheriff’s officer cannot force their way into a debtor’s residential property, they do have the power to break into commercial premises. Assets seized in the previous series of The Sheriffs Are Coming included an aircraft, boat and Lamborghini!
There is a fee of £60 to obtain a High Court Writ and this is added to the amount the creditor is entitled to recover. Interest on the judgment can also be claimed until full payment is made.
Where payment is secured the sheriff will recover his fee from funds received from the debtor. If the debtor has no assets and is unable to make payment the creditor simply has to pay a fee of £60 (plus VAT) to the sheriff.
Whilst there can be no guarantee of recovery in every case, the sheriff’s rate of success is substantial and so the message I would like to communicate to all landlords with a court judgment of £600 or more, or to those who are thinking of suing for rent arrears, is to seriously consider sending in the sheriff.
The Sheriffs Are Coming is back for its third series on BBC One and commences on Monday 13th January at 11am. It is repeated on BBC Two on Tuesday 14th January at 7:05pm. We all agree here that it is certainly worth a watch!