By an act of 1715 entitled 'An Act for appointing Commissioners to inquire of the Estates of certain Traitors, and of Popish Recusants [Catholics], and of Estates given to Superstitious Uses in order to raise money out them severally for the use of the publick', all the real property of persons attainted, or who should be attainted before 24 June 1718, of any high treason committed before 1 June 1716 was declared to be forfeited and vested in the crown without further office or inquisition found. The commissioners were empowered to inform themselves of the names of persons so convicted or attainted of high treason, and of all real estates and interests vested in the crown pursuant to the act, by what tenure they were held, and to what incumbrances they were liable.
The commissioners met first at the Exchequer Chamber, Westminster, on 27 June 1716 and later in the Speaker's Chambers, where it was decided to form a separate commission for forfeited estates in Scotland. The commissioners for England went to Preston in September 1716, then to Newcastle, and back to London, where they sat at Essex Court off the Strand until 1722. They then moved to Fig Tree Court, Inner Temple, their number being reduced from seven to four, until the commission was wound up in 1724.
By an act of 1718 entitled 'An Act for vesting the Forfeited Estates in Great Britain and Ireland in Trustees, to be sold for the use of the publick; and for giving relief to lawful creditors, by determining the claims; and for the effectual bringing into the respective Exchequers the Rents and Profits of the said Estates, till sold', it was enacted that the same commissioners might call before them all creditors or claimants against the forfeited estates and might examine witnesses, deeds and evidences, and adjudge all such claims before 24 March 1719. These provisions were extended and amplified by subsequent acts. The same act provided that the commissioners, or at least four of them, should be taken to be a court of record, and their decrees were to be fairly entered of record in parchment books.
By an act of 1715 catholics were obliged to register their names and real estates in England, Wales and Berwick on Tweed with the clerks of the peace, who were to keep the register in parchment books or rolls. Returns from these registers were to be made by these clerks to the commissioners of forfeited estates.
The commissioners had various officers to assist them including an Accountant General, Surveyor General, Register, Secretary, Solicitor and Clerk of Discoveries, Examiner of Claims and Titles, as well as receivers or collectors and an inspector and agents of coal and lead mines.