Many people are afraid of debt collectors as fear these people will exacerbate their financial problems. This is, of course not true in most cases.

High Court Enforcement Officers (HCEO) are one type of debt collector. They execute the Judgments and orders of the High Court and County Courts of England and Wales.

HCEOs collect money that debtors owe to creditors and may sell the debtor’s possessions to pay the unpaid debts.

Debt collection is a necessary evil, especially during a recession: many people ignore lawyers’ letters and court orders. Some even ignore previous visits from a HCEO.

Difference between high court enforcement officers and debt collectors

Debt collectors mostly operate telephonically and may not repossess a debtor’s property; HCEOs visit debtors and may repossess their property to repay creditors.

There are a number of things that these officers may do: warrant enforcement, rent distress, possession, repossessions, eviction, and tracing.

Creditors can apply to the high court for a number of writs that can recover money from their debtors; however the most popular is the Writ of Fieri Facias, usually abbreviated to the Writ of Fi Fa, which is issued in the High Court after judgment is obtained in a legal action for debt or damages.

Other possible writs are

•    A “Writ of Venditioni Exponas
•    A “Writ of Distringas Nuper Vicecomitem
•    A “Writ of Fieri Facias de Bonis Ecclesiasticis
•    A “Writ of Sequestrari de Bonis Ecclesiasticis

The High Court can only enforce writs on amounts of £600 and more. Amounts that are less than £600 must be enforced in the county court.

The BBC followed Scott, an HCEO from an Essex-based debt collection agency for one day to find out what is it like being a debt collector. He had the High Court’s permission to get £4,000 – in cash or goods – from one debtor. He also stopped by a second debtor’s restaurant during that same day.

Scott started removing the first debtor’s office equipment even though she had asked whether she may repay the debt in instalments. He then goes to the second debtor, a restaurant owner, and gets the money that the debtor owes without much difficulty.

The Office of Fair Trading has a guidance (pdf) that all debt collectors should abide by. Most HCEOs do adhere to these guidelines and complaints against HCEOs have dropped since the introduction of the guidance.

It is important that consumers know their rights when dealing with HCEOs.  Complain to the Association Secretary if an HCEO’s behaviour does not conform to their Code of Practice.