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Britain’s High Court Repo Men

The content below is from Season 2 Episode 28 of the Who’d a Thunk It? Podcast.

  • Welcome Who’d a Thunkers! This episode is going to be one big recommendation segment for a barely known TV series.
    • No history lesson, no moral theme, and an all-round light episode. Enjoy

RECOMMENDATION SEGMENT

  • This episode’s recommendation segment is pretty straight forward. Go to YouTube and search “Can’t Pay? We’ll Take it Away.” You’ll find dozens of episodes of a British TV Series of which this episode is all about.

NOW FOR THE MAIN EVENT

  • The series follows High Court Enforcement Agents (HCEA, previously known as Sheriffs) in the UK who are tasked with executing privately obtained High Court writs across England and Wales on behalf of private clients, on those who have failed to make repayments on alleged debts or refuse to vacate a property.
    • It sounds a bit dull, but remember, he UK has different laws than America. There is no “Right to Bare Arms” there are no “Stand your ground” laws. So these men tasked to recovering a debt have A LOT more freedom than debt collectors in the US.
  • So here’s the basic break down of just about every episode:
    • Every episode starts with the narrator giving a depressing fun fact about debt and text appears on the screen with the numbers to back up said depressing fun fact.
  • Cut to Two fairly large British guys (some of which are pretty nasty looking bouncer types) driving up to an address. On the way they share the details of the case in the car. They almost always share how much money is owed by the debtor.
    • They arrive at the location and immediately start sizing up the goods.
      • For example: They usually look at the cars parked in the driveway and speculate on how much they are worth.
    • They knock on the door with their body cams and bullet proof vests that say “High Court” on them and politely ask for anyone to open the door.
      • They do this at just about all hours of the day.
      • Usually someone answers in their pajamas with their hair all messed up and with a very unpleasant confused look on their face like “what?! I owe debt? No, can’t be. You must be looking for someone else.”
      • It is very common for the debtor to straight up lie to the High Court Enforcement Agents and say they are someone else entirely. Or that the actual debtor is unavailable at the moment.
    • But the really exciting episodes are when no one answers the door. Either the debtor simply isn’t home or they are hiding… doesn’t matter. These big debt collector blokes are allowed to just tramps on to the property and look for an open door or window to gain access to the property.
      • Once inside they continue to size up goods that they can repossess to cover the debt.
      • When the debtor arrives or anyone else who lives at the property arrives they are reasonably in disbelief that the agents are inside their property without permission.
      • People make threats, lie, and pull all sorts of tricks to get out of the situation.
    • Anytime a debtor says “I don’t have any money.” The agents calmly reply with “Ok no problem. I’ll just be walking all over your house to find something that will cover the debt.”
      • This of course helps the debtor realize that they aren’t going away. These agents are from the Britain’s High Court and they are tasked with settling the debt that very same day whether it means getting paid in full, setting up a payment plan that the client agrees to, or straight up taking everything of value in the house until it can cover the debt.
  • In multiple episodes they explain that having the agents seize goods is the worst option. Because then those goods get auctioned off and the worth of the goods is diminished by every single person involved.
    • For example: if they seize a car the tow truck driver, the person who owns the lot of where the car will be stored, and auctioneers all have to be paid. And the money they get paid with comes right out of the money made off of the car. So the debtor will lose WAY more money in goods than they would if they just paid the debts off.
    • And sometimes when the Agents are rummaging around in the debtors belongings they find some very interesting items.
      • One episode the Agent Steve Pinner found a plywood box that was sealed with 2-by-4’s and screws. It was the size of an end table, but clearly the debtor was trying to keep it safe so naturally Steve thought there was something worth value in it that he could collect. After using a crowbar to get the box opened, stacks and stacks of cash came spilling out of the box. The agents immediately called the police to investigate and I’m pretty sure the cash was counterfeit.
      • Other episodes they’ve found an entire attic full of Cannabis plants.
      • One time they found a few rifles. And in the UK it is very difficult to legally own a gun so they called the cops on that one too.
  • On numerous occasions the person that owes the debt isn’t the one who borrowed the money.
    • One of the best episodes is when the agents go to a young lady’s apartment at like 4AM to collect a debt incurred through unpaid parking fines.
    • When the young lady opens the door for the agents she is confused at first but quickly realizes where the debt came from. The car is in her name, but she allowed her ex-boyfriend to use her car and he was the one who caused the issue. The agents felt for the lady, but she ultimately was responsible for the money. The agents (who always show tons of patience) agreed to wait a few hours to see if the ex-boyfriend would pay instead of having to make this young lady pay.
    • She called her boyfriend who immediately got really mad. He showed up hours after being called and tried to intimidate the agents (this is very common).
    • The agents as always just stood there stone faced with no emotion and no signs of fear or aggression. They eventually go the ex to pay in cash even though he was petty about it and insisted he count the money instead of the agent. But when the agents went to leave he parked them in. The agents, still cool as cucumbers, called the cops and explained. So the ex panics and started to pull out… Thats when they noticed the ex had slashed their tires.
    • The agents STILL kept their cool and just added the “oh and he slashed our tires” to the 999 call (UK doesn’t use 911, they use 999. If you dial 911 in the UK it goes nowhere). The ex ran off, but the agents had all of his contact info and license plate.
  • My favorite HCEA is Paul Bohill
    • The guy has got to be in his 60’s and although he is almost always accompanied by a much younger Agent, he doesn’t really need to be. You can tell by the way he talks he has so much experience on the job he has seen just about everything a debtor can throw at him.
    • That being said, every HCEA on the show has nerves of steel.
      • Which I guess is a must when you have this job.
      • I mean, these guys break in to people’s homes and when the debtor shows up to find a complete stranger in their house they flip out as if they had no idea this law existed. Meanwhile the agents are always just like “sup, I have this piece of paper telling me you owe 5 grand. Can you pay it or am I taking all your family heirloom jewelry?”
From left to right there is Steve Pinner, Ben Pinner (Steve’s son) and then Paul Bohill.
  • Now, collecting debt isn’t all these agents do. Sometimes they have to enforce evictions.
    • Either a tenant hasn’t paid their rent or the agents are tasked with evicting what the UK calls squatters.
    • The residential evictions are usually sad.
      • Usually the debt collections are humorous, but when someone is evicted by the High Court it is done instantaneously. The Landlords can go through county court which takes time and requires multiple notices to be served, OR they can go through the High Court which is who these agents work for. So these evictions are basically kicking people and families out on to the street.
      • Paul Bohill, the older light haired fellow usually with a beet red face, is one of the nicest Agents. He handles these situations well. One episode Paul stayed for like 13 hours outside this families house until “the council” (basically the UK’s version of Welfare) found housing for the family. He gave them help and went above and beyond his duty. It wasn’t Paul’s job to do that, but he couldn’t bring himself to kick a bunch of kids out on the street.
    • The squatter evictions however are not usually sad.
      • UK law is weird with squatting.
      • According to GOV.UK: “Squatting is when someone deliberately enters property without permission and lives there, or intends to live there.
      • Squatting in residential buildings (like a house or flat) is illegal. It can lead to 6 months in prison, a £5,000 fine or both.
      • Although squatting in non-residential building or land is not in itself a crime, it’s a crime to damage the property.
      • It’s usually a crime not to leave land or property when you’re instructed to do so by:
        • the owner
        • the police
        • the council
        • a repossession order” (enforced by the High Court Enforcement Agents on this show)
      • So where the residential evictions are of people who haven’t paid their rent and they are surprised by the eviction… the Squatter evictions are of drifter type people who are living inside an industrial building… and according to GOV.UK they aren’t breaking any laws.
      • This is just how they live their lives. They set up a literal camp in a non-residential building and when someone of authority tells them to leave they peacefully leave. They pack up and go to the next building without ever breaking the law.
  • Can’t Pay We’ll Take It Away is a fascinating factual documentary series full of scenarios you and I will probably never witness.
    • Some of my favorite aspects of the show:
      • Classic reality TV enjoyment of watching real people act like idiots (but this show feels more authentic than American Reality TV)
      • Learning the difference in law between the US and the UK. Then seeing how those differences in law make life very different for their citizens.
      • And lastly watching Can’t Pay We’ll Take It Away always reminds me to PAY OFF MY DEBTS!
        • I’m normally a very frugal person and I’ve never missed a payment for anything. My credit is great. But it doesn’t hurt to reinforce that side of my personality.
        • Perhaps you, my listener (or reader) could also benefit from such a lesson.
      • Oh, and I guess I respect how perfect the show’s title is: they literally go to peoples’ houses and say “If you can’t pay we will take your things away.”

THANKS FOR LISTENING (and reading) WHO’D A THUNKERS!!!

CREDIT

I just thought I would include an episode. This episode has a bit of everything: a celebrity, and eviction, and an aggressive boyfriend lol.

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