What is a Warrant of Control?

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If you already have a County Court Judgment (CCJ) for an unpaid debt but don’t make payments as ordered by the court, your creditor (the individual or company you owe money to) can apply for a ‘Warrant of Control’ to force you to make payment.

This is a legal document that authorises bailiffs to visit you at your home or business premises to collect the money owed or, if you can’t pay, seize possessions. The items taken will then be sold at auction to raise enough money to cover the debt.

This article will go into further detail about what a Warrant of Control is, what you should do if you receive a Warrant of Control, and how to stop a Warrant of Control.

What is a Warrant of Control?

A Warrant of Control is a legal document that gives bailiffs (officially known as enforcement agents or enforcement officers) permission to visit your home and collect money owed up to £5,000 (including costs) or seize goods.

Put simply, it is the County Court version of a High Court enforcement officer (HCEO) using a Writ of Control or High Court Writ.

Before a Warrant of Control can be issued, you must have failed to pay the amount you were originally ordered to pay by the court or fallen behind with at least one payment – this is known as being ‘in arrears’.

The type of debt that can be recovered under a Warrant of Control include rent arrears, parking fines, council tax arrears, business invoices, and child support arrears.

How does a Warrant of Control work?

There are several steps that must be followed before you can be legally served with a Warrant of Control, including:

CCJ

Before you are served with a Warrant of Control, you must have been issued with a CCJ. This is a type of court order that is issued against you if you fail to make repayments towards a debt and your creditor has sought legal action to force you to pay.

If you have been issued with a CCJ and you admit to owing the money, paying it as soon as possible can help you avoid further legal action and allow you to settle your debts and move on with your life.

Missed payments

If you continue to miss payments or fail to acknowledge the CCJ, your creditor will be free to apply for a Warrant of Control to encourage you to repay what you owe.

Remember, there must be evidence of you failing to pay the full amount owed as ordered by the court or defaulting on at least one CCJ payment before you can be issued with a Warrant of Control.

Enforcement notice

If your creditor has applied for a Warrant of Control, you will receive an ‘enforcement notice’ in the post. This is a formal document warning you that your creditor is planning to take enforcement action against you unless you act soon.

The enforcement notice will give you seven clear days notice (not including Sundays, Christmas Day, or bank holidays) to make up for missed payments before bailiffs visit you at your home or business premises.

Bailiff action

If you don’t respond to the enforcement notice or repay what you owe within seven days, a bailiff will visit you at home and demand payment for the debt. They will demand payment for the full amount owed or, if you can’t pay, make a list of items they can sell at auction to recover the money owed.

County Court bailiffs work on the authority of the court, so they have the legal power to seize goods to sell at auction to recover the money owed.

However, there are strict rules they must follow when they visit you to ensure your rights are respected. For example, they shouldn’t arrive unannounced, force entry into your home, or visit between the hours of 9pm and 6am.

What items can bailiffs take from my home?

When bailiffs visit you at home, they can only seize goods that you legally own. This means they can’t take items belonging to a third party (e.g. hire purchase items that haven’t been completely repaid) or are owned outright by someone else living at the property.

Usually, bailiffs will look for high-value items that are likely to fetch a good price at auction. Bailiffs can also only take items they have clear access to and can physically remove so can’t seize goods they can only see through a window or letterbox, for example.

Some of the items they may choose to recover include:

  • Vehicles
  • Jewellery
  • Furniture
  • Electricals (e.g. game consoles, computers, and televisions)

However, there are limits to what bailiffs can recover and they can never leave you without possessions you need to maintain a basic standard of living. Some of the items they can’t take include:

  • White goods (e.g. fridge, freezer, washing machine)
  • Medical or care equipment
  • Equipment needed for work or study (up to a total value of £1,350)
  • Pets or assistance animals
  • Landline or mobile phone

Can enforcement agents force entry into my home with a Warrant of Control?

There is a common misconception that bailiffs can break into your home and take as many items as they like to repay the debt. However, it’s important to understand that bailiffs can’t force entry into your home under any circumstances – even if they have a Warrant of Control.

They are also not allowed to push past you to gain entry, jam their foot in the door to stop you from closing it or lie about who they are or the reason behind their visit.

The only time a bailiff can force entry into your home is if they are:

  • Collecting an unpaid criminal fine
  • Returning after they were permitted entry on a previous visit
  • Visiting because you broke the terms of a controlled goods agreement

Can enforcement agents enter my home if I’m not there?

If you’re anticipating bailiff action, it’s normal to worry about the possibility of them entering your property and seizing goods when you’re there. But can bailiffs enter your home if there’s nobody there to let them in? The answer is yes, but only in certain situations.

For example, an enforcement agent can only enter if you make it easy for them to gain entry by leaving a door unlocked or leaving a key in an unlocked door. They can’t, however, put their hand in a hole, such as a cat flat or letterbox, and attempt to unlock a door from the outside or try to gain access to a key from your landlord.

If you’re concerned about bailiffs entering your home when you’re not there, you – and anyone else you live with – must ensure all doors and windows are firmly closed and locked every time you leave.

Can I make an offer of payment before bailiffs visit me?

If you receive an enforcement notice and can afford to repay a portion of the debt, you can make an offer of payment to prevent bailiffs from visiting you and seizing your possessions.

Even if you can’t afford to repay the debt in full, a bailiff may agree to stop enforcement action before it’s begun if you agree to set up a repayment schedule to repay what you owe in regular instalments.

When making an offer of payment, you must ensure it’s reasonable and within the limits of what you can comfortably afford. It can be tempting to make an offer of payment that you can’t afford just to get the bailiff to agree to stop enforcement action, but this will only lead to further problems if you can’t pay.

Can I stop a Warrant of Control?

It may be possible to stop a Warrant of Control and stop bailiffs from visiting you by completing and returning an application form (N245) to the court.

This form, which can be downloaded from the GOV.UK website or collected from your local County Court hearing centre, asks the court to suspend or vary payments made by a previous court order.

There will be a small court fee required to submit the form, but this can be waived if you’re on a low income or certain benefits.

The court can’t refuse your application and is legally required to review your case – even if bailiffs haven’t visited you yet – but bailiff action will continue until a decision is made.

The court will then send a copy of the form to your creditor, who will decide to uphold or dismiss the Warrant of Control, before getting in touch with you to let you know the outcome of their decision.

Conclusion

Receiving a Warrant of Control can be daunting and it’s normal to fear the worst, but understanding how the process works can help put your mind at ease and know what to do next.

If you’ve been served with an enforcement notice, the key is to act promptly. Burying your head in the sand and hoping it goes away never works and will only lead to unnecessary financial stress and, in some cases, extra fees.

Remember, if you’re struggling with unaffordable debt and don’t know where to turn, don’t hesitate to seek professional help. Everyone’s financial situation is unique but a debt expert can review your individual circumstances and provide tailored advice based on your specific money worries and financial goals.

Key Takeaways

  • If you have an unpaid County Court Judgement, your creditor can apply for a Warrant of Control which authorises bailiffs to visit your home
  • A Warrant of Control can only be issued if you have already been served with a CCJ
  • Bailiffs can’t force entry into your home and must give you at least seven days’ notice to repay what you owe or set up a repayment schedule
  • If you can afford to repay the debt in full, making a reasonable offer of payment can stop a County Court bailiff from visiting you and seizing goods
  • You may be able to stop bailiffs from visiting you by completing and returning an application form (N245) to the court as soon as possible
Maxine McCreadie

Maxine McCreadie

Author/Debt Expert

Maxine McCreadie, prominent personal finance writer featured in Vogue and Yahoo News, delivers practical guidance, simplifying money management and championing financial literacy.

How we reviewed this article:

HISTORY

Our debt experts continually monitor the personal finance and debt industry, and we update our articles when new information becomes available.

Current Version

November 8 2023

Written by
Maxine McCreadie

Edited by
Ben McCormack

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