What is the difference between a bailiff and an enforcement agent?

What is a Bailiff?

The word bailiff is actually an old Middle English word so has been in use for over 500 years. It means “manager”, “custodian” or “legal officer” and was used to describe someone who was given power by the Court to carry out (execute) the decisions of a Court, such as serving important Court paperwork to people or debt collection and enforcement (this was at a time when Courts also dealt with administrative duties like rent collection).

Fast forward to only a few years ago and the term bailiff was very much in use to describe someone who had a legal right (from the Court) to do things such as collecting debts and serving Court papers (known as process serving). Then the government decided to look at “simplifying and clarifying the enforcement process”. As a result the Tribunals, Courts and Enforcement Act 2007 (Commencement No. 9) Order 2013 was passed and, to put it simply, the more modern and clearer name of “Enforcement Agent” is now used instead of “bailiff”.

Are there any differences between a “Bailiff” and an “Enforcement Agent”?

No, we just now use the name “Enforcement Agent” instead of “Bailiff” – interestingly the basic role of the old “legal officer” hasn’t actually changed so much.

Enforcement Agents remain trained professionals who are certificated by the Court giving them the power to, for example, take control of a debtor’s goods. However, there are different types of enforcement roles including:

  • “high court enforcement officers” (HCEOs, formerly known as Sheriffs) and
  •  “enforcement officers”

What is the difference between a “High Court Enforcement Officer” and an “Enforcement Agent”?

The two courts which primarily deal with civil (non-criminal) action (such as debt recovery) in England and Wales are the County Court (smaller value claims) and the High Court which deals with higher value claims. Whilst most of the higher value judgments leading to enforcement (recovery) are actually issued in the High Court, sometimes judgments issued in the County Court can be transferred up to the High Court for enforcement purposes.

Unlike Enforcement Agents, HCEOs have been specifically authorised to enforce higher value judgements obtained in or transferred to the High Court. They also have to comply with:

  • specific law such as the High Court Enforcement Officers Regulations 2004 and
  • a code of practice and professional conduct issued by the High Court Enforcement Officers Association

The team at Able Investigations and Enforcements includes highly professional Enforcement Agents and HCEOs who can assist you with all aspects of enforcing higher value judgements. To find out more or discuss any aspect of enforcement please call us on 0345 366 0000.


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