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HMRC internal manual

Debt Management and Banking Manual

HM Revenue & Customs
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Enforcement action: summary proceedings: enforcing magistrates' orders: applying for a distress warrant

A distress warrant to enforce a magistrates’ order for payment may be issued by

  • a magistrate
  • a justices’ clerk, or
  • a person authorised by the justices’ clerk for that purpose.

Under Section 76 Magistrates’ Courts Act 1980, a complaint to enforce the order cannot be made until the 15th day after the order was made. Most courts now require a separate hearing before they will issue a distress warrant. Occasionally a court will issue a warrant without a hearing, provided the debtor was in court when the order was made to enforce payment by distress.

A distress warrant does not have an expiry date and remains in force until the amount due under the order is paid.

Before you can enforce a magistrates’ order by distress warrant you must have

  • served the debtor with a copy of the minute of order (form SP26B) (see DMBM660490); (you will not need to do this if the debtor attended the hearing at which the order and further order to enforce by distress were made) and
  • allowed at least 14 days to elapse since the order was obtained.
  • sent a letter advising the time and date when you intend to apply to the court for a distress warrant.

Form SP35

You should then prepare form SP35. Name the relevant bailiff company contracted to the region in which your court is situated on the SP35. If the debtor attended the original hearing and a further order for distress was made, delete the words ‘The debtor has been served with a copy of a minute of the order’.

You may have to include the debtor’s date of birth on the form, depending on the requirements of your court.

Immediately prior to issue of the form SP35

  • prepare an imminent proceedings list
  • carry out an RP check (DMBM615040).


If you are issuing a distress warrant against a company at the business address, ensure the business is aware of this action and consider issuing a letter warning of this action to both the business address and the registered office.

Distress warrant hearing

On the day of the hearing you should attend court taking with you

  • forms SP35 (with a note to the bailiff if appropriate)
  • the fee per warrant (DMBM660820).

You may have to provide the court with evidence that the defendant was served with the copy minute of order (form SP26B). You will be able to demonstrate this by proving service of form SP26B. You will also have to confirm the amount remaining unpaid, on oath if necessary.

It will be useful to have with you a copy of your letter advising the debtor of the date and time of the hearing.