You have sent your debtor a letter of claim, issued proceedings in court, dealt with any relevant applications, requested judgment and the day finally comes where the fruits of your labour reach your desk. A County Court Judgment (CCJ), ordering your debtor to pay the debt owed to you. What a wonderful feeling!
You may be left wondering what happens now, a CCJ does not necessarily mean a debtor will make an immediate payment. If your debtor does not pay in accordance with the order, you may need to consider methods of enforcement.
What are your options? We have compiled a list of the most frequently used methods of enforcement so you have all of the information at your fingertips.
County Court Bailiffs – Warrant of Control
County court bailiffs can deal with debts with a value below £5,000 but generally will deal with debts below £600. They can be instructed by making an application for a 'warrant of control' directly to the court where the judgment was obtained from.
In order to execute the warrant of control, bailiffs will attend a property with a view to taking payments to cover their fees, and the total amount of the debt. Where payments are not forthcoming the bailiff will look to seize assets to sell, in order to cover repayment of the debt, as well as their fees. If a debtor refuses to let a bailiff inside their home, the bailiff will look to seize assets that are outside the home to cover the debt, including cars which are parked on the driveway.
Bailiffs must send the debtor notice that they will be attending the property, they are not entitled to force their way into the debtor's home. They can only enter through an open door, and seizure of goods cannot be undertaken if only children under 16, or vulnerable persons, are present. Bailiffs cannot take clothing, white goods, work tools and equipment worth less than £1,350, or somebody else's belongings, however, the debtor will need to prove that goods belong to somebody else if the goods are found at their property.
Warrant of control court fee: £83.
Authorised High Court Enforcement Officers (HCEO) – Writ of Control
HCEOs deal with debts with a value above £600 and can be instructed directly to execute a 'writ of control'. The debt will then be transferred to the High Court and once the sealed writ is received enforcement officers will begin making attendances at the debtor's property.
HCEOs have similar powers to county court bailiffs, but they are more extensive, they do not need to give notice for every visit and in some cases they are able to force entry in order to recover the debt.
As above, seizure of goods cannot be undertaken if only children under 16, or vulnerable persons, are present. HCEOs cannot take clothing, white goods, work tools and equipment worth less than £1,350 or somebody else's belongings, however, the debtor will need to prove that goods belong to somebody else if the goods are found at their property.
HCEOs are considered more effective for debt collection than county court bailiffs.
Writ of control court fee: £71.
Other fees may be charged by the HCEOs such as an abortive fee if recovery is not successful.
If a debtor owes a significant amount of money, and you are aware that they own their own property, you may wish to consider putting a charging order in place. A charging order places a registered charge on the title of the debtor's property, in the event the debtor sells their property, should there be sufficient equity, the debt will be paid from the proceeds of sale.
A charging order is issued in two parts. Once the application is made, an interim charging order is put in place which places a restriction on the title of the property. This is done without a hearing. If no objection is raised to the interim charging order, the application will be sent to a judge after 28 days to have a final charging order put in place, and a registered charge will be recorded against the title of the property.
This option does not produce an immediate result, however, if you are not happy to wait for the debtor to make the decision to sell to recover your money, charging orders can be put in place while other methods of enforcement are attempted, for example; you can have a charging order in place and also have HCEOs attending the property to take payments.
Once the debt is paid in full, the charge must be removed.
Court fee: £119.
Attachment of Earnings Order
If you are pursuing an individual for payment, and you are aware they are employed, you may wish to attempt an attachment of earnings order. This will not render payment in full immediately. The order is sent to the debtor's employer and requires them to take money out of the debtor's wages to make payment of the debt. The money is sent from the employer to the court and the court forward the payments to you in instalments.
It is worth considering the debtor's salary before proceeding with an attachment of earnings order, as if it is below the protected earning threshold of £550 per month then the attachment of earnings order will fail.
It is also worth noting this is not suitable for debtors who are;
- unemployed or self-employed;
- a firm or a limited company;
- in the army, navy or air force; or
- a merchant seaman.
Court fee: £119.
Enforcing a debt can be confusing, but it is made easier when you know your debtor. Information about the debtor's income, asset profile and, if they are an individual, their employment status can be key in selecting the most effective method to recover your money.
You may wish to instruct an enquiry agent to undertake a pre-sue report, in order to get a clearer picture of the debtor's circumstances if this information is not already known to you.
The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.