A famous restaurant in London has recently made the headlines due to a landmark case brought against this London establishment by the building’s owner. The owner is “demanding that the Wolseley’s operators Corbin & King pay all of the almost £1m of rent debt that built up while the restaurant was closed during coronavirus lockdowns” according to the Financial Times. Corbin and King have referred to the clause in their contract that states the company is not entitled to pay rent whilst unable to operate, which was signalled by the numerous lockdowns. This issue is one that is playing out up and down the country. According to the same article, estimates suggest that there is £6.4bn in unpaid rent across the UK. All of which could have an enormous impact on our city centres and high streets across the UK.
Here we look at what powers there are to pursue for rent and how tenants can get support to help manage the payments that landlords may legally be entitled to.
A high court writ of control is a document obtained via a designated high court enforcement officer, of a debt of £600.00 or greater. The writ itself can be obtained via a standard CCJ, or in this case, can be issued through a combined writ of possession and control whereby historical rent arrears are recoverable. It allows our enforcement officers to levy goods up to and including the value of the writ.
Once you have a CCJ or a possession order outlining rent arrears, Gallowglass Enforcement offers a variety of services. We offer evictions, as well as attempted recovery of the rent arrears, using experienced enforcement agents with an abundance of industry experience. Once the ‘transfer-up’ process is competed the writ will be assigned to one of our accredited enforcement agents to recover the outstanding debt. The ‘transfer-up’ process is the process of gaining a high court writ of control from a CCJ or a possession order from the county court.
You can pursue the debtor for your money as long as it is within six years of the original county court judgment. A high court writ of control affords our enforcement agents the right to levy goods should the debtor decide not to pay. Our enforcement agents can also force entry to commercial premises. There is a clear advantage of using high court enforcement rather than county court, where combined warrants are not possible; the county court bailiff does not work at a commission rate so there is no incentive to chase diligently. Gallowglass also offers a tracing service, therefore enforcement on historical tenants will prove fruitful assuming a forwarding address is found.
Your tenant can contest the debt by applying to the court to get the judgment set aside. This would be via Part 13 of setting aside of varying default judgment. Since rent arrears originate from non-payment of a contractual obligation on the part of the tenant, they would therefore have little if no recourse for rebuttal. However, each defence from each tenant would have its own merits and the judge would make these decisions accordingly, should the tenant choose to contest the writ. However, at the point of the writ of control issue the judge may find that the debtor has had numerous opportunities to either pay the debt, or enter mediation with the claimant.
There are a variety of debt support and relief services, the Citizens Advice Bureau, stepchange.org and nationaldebtline.org to name a few. They may also choose to contest the debt using their own chosen legal professional.