Documents to download

A common question is how a creditor can recover payment of an unsecured debt.  If a negotiated settlement is impossible, creditors might begin legal proceedings in their local county court. If, having considered all the evidence, the court decides that the debt is properly owed, it will make a judgment order in favour of the claimant (known as a CCJ). In legal terms, the claimant is said to have “obtained judgment against the defendant”. However, obtaining a CCJ is only the first step in the debt recovery process, the next step is to enforce the judgment.

A CCJ will typically give the judgment debtor 14 days to repay the debt or deadlines by which instalments must be paid. On the making of a CCJ, some judgment debtors will immediately pay the debt in full, in which case the matter is closed. Others may not. They may refuse to comply with the CCJ or simply ignore it. The court will not enforce a judgment order unless it is specifically asked to do so. In other words, the judgment creditor must go back to court to force the judgment debtor to pay.

There are various enforcement methods that can be used to force payment of a money judgment. They include a warrant of control (or, in respect of the High Court, a writ of control) over the debtor’s assets; a third party debt order; an attachment of earnings order; or a charging order on the debtor’s property (usually their home). A judgment creditor can use any method available (several methods can be used simultaneously or one after the other). Each method of civil debt enforcement method has its own strengths and weaknesses. The right method of enforcement will depend on what assets the judgment debtor owns and if they earn a regular income.

Before beginning any enforcement action, the judgment creditor should, as far as possible, investigate the debtor’s financial resources to ascertain whether the debtor has the financial means to repay the debt. For example, if the debtor owns a property it may be possible to apply for a charging order. Where the judgment debtor is a company, Companies House may hold its annual accounts and information about any insolvency proceedings or legal charges against business assets.  Another option is for the judgment creditor to apply to the court for an order to obtain information.  Under this order, the judgment debtor must attend the court to answer detailed questions about their financial position. This information can help the creditor decide what type of enforcement action (if any) is appropriate.

This briefing paper considers the different methods of civil debt enforcement available to a judgment creditor in England and Wales.  It also considers the effect of insolvency upon enforcement.

Documents to download

Related posts