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Friday 11th March 2011
11/03/2011 - "Send in the Sheriff"
 
Obtaining payment of your debts is not always easy. Often your calls and letters are met by silence. Frequently, people have to sue and obtain a Court Judgment. Often, the Debtor will still not pay up or put forward payment proposals. What should you then do to secure payment? One option is to seize and sell any goods the Debtor may have. If your Judgment is for a sum less than £600 this is done via the County Court Bailiff. If the Judgment is for more than £600 you may, instead, appoint the High Court Sheriff. Whichever you choose a small fee is payable to the Court. Both the Bailiff and Sheriff are empowered to visit the Debtor and seize goods belonging to the Debtor – save for certain exempted items such as the tools of their trade – if they do not pay up or put forward satisfactory payment proposals. 
 
In my experience appointing the Sheriff is the better option with greater prospects of recovery via the Sheriff than the Bailiff as the Sheriff invariably proceeds more swiftly and is more tenacious in pursuing the debt. Unlike the County Court Bailiff there is a financial incentive for the Sheriff should he secure payment for the Creditor from the Debtor. 
 
If the Sheriff is instructed he will appoint a local Enforcement Officer to visit the Debtor at home. Unlike the County Court Bailiff the Sheriff’s Officer is not restricted to 9am-5pm, Monday to Friday. They can visit – without prior notice – in the evenings and at weekends. If the Debtor is not in when they call they will pay another visit. A visit from an Officer – with the threat of seizure of goods – will often result in full or part payment being made or payment proposals being put forward. If a payment plan – which the Sheriff’s Officer will try to broker – is put forward and accepted the Debtor’s goods will not be seized provided they keep to the plan so there is an incentive for them to pay. 
 
The Sheriff’s fees and costs will be met from monies recovered from the Debtor. In the event of a “nil return” where the Debtor has no goods or makes no payment or payment proposals the Sheriff will simply charge the Creditor a flat fee of £60 plus VAT. If the Debtor genuinely has no assets and/or is not working a visit from the Sheriff’s Officer will usually establish that fact. That in itself can be helpful in determining how you should proceed if, indeed, the matter is worth pursuing further. Next time you secure a County Court Judgment therefore you may wish to consider sending in the Sheriff. 

Philip Oke - Partner

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