Enforcement

If a debtor does not keep to the terms of a court order, the creditor can apply to the court to enforce the judgment by various means. It is always best to stick to the terms of the order and to apply for a variation if this is not possible. See variations for reference. Debts such as court fines, unpaid maintenance, council tax arrears and debts to HMRC are also subject to enforcement action.
IMPORTANT NOTEThis topics refers mostly to the enforcement of county court judgments (CCJs). Other types of debts can also be enforced, see court fines recovery, council tax, maintenance and tax debt for more information.
Enforcement of judgments
Once bailiffs get involved, the debt amount can increase considerably, especially when HCEOs are being used to enforce it. You can use the Bailiffs and HCEOs fees calculators to estimate the amount of fees added to the debt.

LawObtaining judgment is just the first step towards recovering the amount owed. It is up to the creditor to collect the amount ordered by the court to be paid. Most judgments made without a hearing (default/summary judgments) are forthwith, this means the full amount is payable immediately. However, in the majority of cases, the judgment debtor wouldn’t be able to pay the debt in full and will have to apply for a redetermination or a variation of the court order.

If the debtor doesn’t pay the amount ordered by the court or apply to the court for an installment order, the creditor can take further action to enforce the judgment and attempt to recover the money owed. A judgment in itself does not allow for enforcement action to be taken without a further application to the court to enforce it.

It is up to you, as a debtor, to ensure that you keep to the terms of the court order, as long as you do, the creditor cannot apply to enforce the judgment (with the exception of securing the debt with a charging order, provided the judgment was made after October 1st 2012 and the amount is at least £1,000).

It is important to make sure that payments are made every month, you may want to set up a standing order for that purpose.
Even if you are able to make larger lump sum payments towards the judgment, you should still pay the agreed amount each and every month, otherwise you’d be in default of the court order and the creditor could take further enforcement action.
Information order

N316Creditors can use Form N316 to require you to attend court for an oral examination by a court official or, in some cases, a district judge. An information order is an order to attend court to be questioned about your financial situation and anything else that may be relevant to the judgment.

The creditor must serve the form at least 14 days before the hearing and you have 7 days to ask the creditor to pay your travel expenses to the hearing. The form will contain a list of documents you will be required to take with you to the hearing such as payslips, bills, statements, etc.

At the hearing, you will be required to answer a number of standard questions included on Form EX140 as well as any additional questions the creditor may deem relevant. You will be on oath.

Failure to attend the hearing, provide documents or answer questions can result in a suspended committal to prison order. Further failure to comply can result in arrest.
You should prepare a suitable statement of means and a letter giving reasons for failing to provide any information that may not be available to you before the hearing.
An information order is usually followed by further enforcement action by the creditor.
Enforcement methods

Practice Direction 70 sets out the various methods of enforcement:

Methods of enforcing money judgments – rule 70.2

1.1

A judgment creditor may enforce a judgment or order for the payment of money by any of the following methods:

(1) a writ of control or warrant of control (see Parts 83 and 84);

(2) a third party debt order (see Part 72);

(3) a charging order, stop order or stop notice (see Part 73);

(4) in a county court, an attachment of earnings charging order order (see CCR Order 27);

(5) the appointment of a receiver (see Part 69).

The enforcement method depends on your circumstances, for example, an attachment of earnings can only be made if you are employed, a charging order only applies if you are a homeowner or own other property. A creditor can use more than one method of enforcement at the same time.

Enforcement action can be instructed for up to 6 years from the date a judgment became enforceable. A creditor can continue trying to enforce for longer than 6 years from date of judgment but they cannot start the first enforcement action past this date.

Court permission is required to enforce a judgment over 6 years old. Warrants of Control must be renewed after 12 months if they have not been enforced.

Bailiffs

Once they have obtained a county court judgment against you (a CCJ), the creditor can apply to the court for a warrant of control, authorising them to send bailiffs to your home to seize goods to be sold to repay the debt. However, they can only do this if you have not applied for and agreed a variation on a forthwith judgment or you have missed a payment, as long as the outstanding amount remains unpaid at the time the warrant is issued.

A warrant can be for the whole amount of the judgment (if no installment order is in place) or for the arrears which should be at least £50. See bailiffs for more information.

The bailiff should give you seven clear days’ notice that they are due to visit you. ‘Clear days’ do not include Sundays, Christmas Day or bank holidays.
You don’t need to let the bailiffs in. They cannot force their way in unless you’ve previously let them in or they have taken control of your goods. If you haven’t let the bailiffs in, you should keep your doors locked and windows closed.
Bailiffs can take control of goods outside your home, for example cars, motorbikes, bikes, lawnmower and equipment stored in an unlocked shed.
If you have a car, try to park it in a locked garage or well away from the property. If the bailiffs locate your vehicle on a highway, they can clamp it or remove it.

If you have let the bailiffs into your home, there are certain goods that are protected, meaning they cannot be taken:

  • clothing, bedding, furniture and basic household items that are necessary for the basic domestic needs of you and your family, such as:
    • cooker or microwave.
    • fridge/freezer.
    • washing machine.
    • dining table and chairs.
  • tools, books, telephones, computers, vehicles and other items of equipment that are necessary for use personally in your job, business or education (up to a total value of £1350); and
  • items you or someone else is physically using where taking the goods is likely to lead to a breach of the peace.
Goods will not usually be taken away on the first visit but the bailiff may ask you to sign a controlled goods agreement, allowing you to keep using the items listed.
A bailiff should not take away goods worth more than what you owe.
Bailiffs cannot take goods that belong to someone else. The owner can prove this showing a receipt or signing a statutory declaration.
Bailiffs cannot take goods on hire-purchase or conditional-sale agreements.

You can apply to the court to have the warrant suspended, using form N245. You will need to list your income and outgoings on the form, including details of all your debt repayments. Couples should list their total household income and expenditure. See statement of means for more information.

Send or take the form to the court that issued the warrant of control. The court will send a copy of the form to the creditor. The outcome will be one of the following:

  • The creditor agrees to your offer. The court will send you details of the agreement and how to pay.
  • The creditor does not agree to your offer. The court will use the information on your application to work out how much you should pay.
  • The creditor objects to your application to suspend the warrant. There will be a hearing where the judge will decide the course of action, which you should attend. Be prepared to explain your circumstances.
  • The court orders you to pay more than your offer. You will need to apply to the court for a hearing to explain your circumstances to the judge, using form N244, within 14 days of receiving the court order. You won’t need to pay another fee for that purpose. You will need to attend the hearing and explain your circumstances to the court.
ReferenceSee bailiffs for more information.

Third party debt order

If a creditor has obtained a county court judgment against you (a CCJ) and they think you have the money to repay them and are holding it back, they can apply to the court for a third party debt order, allowing them to take the money you owe them from your bank account.

If you are due to get a lump sum such as a redundancy settlement, an inheritance or insurance payout, your creditor could get your employer, solicitor or insurance company to pay the money to them instead of you, up to the amount necessary to clear the debt.
Your creditor can get details of your bank accounts and other financial information by applying to the court for an order to obtain information. This order will make it compulsory for you to attend court and give the information under oath.

The court can ask about things like:

  • your income and outgoings
  • your job
  • your home
  • any other property you own.
It is very important that you go to the hearing or inform the court if you can’t attend because the order to obtain information will contain a penal notice, a warning that if you don’t go to the hearing, you can be sent to prison for contempt of court
Your creditor may also want to know when your payday is, so they can time a third party order to arrive at the bank when your wages are paid in and you’re likely to have more money to pay them.
There’s nothing to stop you withdrawing money from your bank account if you think the creditor is going to apply for a third party debt order, but you may not know about the order until after it has been made.

Your creditor will start by applying for an interim third party debt order, which tells your bank to freeze your account. At this point, your account will be frozen but no money will be paid to your creditor until the judge has decided what to do at the final hearing.

An interim third party debt order can leave you without money to pay priority debts or meet essential bills and day to day living expenses.
If the order will leave you with no money at all and this causes you hardship, you may be able to apply to court for help.
An interim third party debt order will be made final unless you can show there are good reasons for it not to be made.
ReferenceSee third party debt orders for more information.

Charging orders
housing

  • Once they have obtained judgment, a creditor can apply for a charging order, provided the debt is at least £1,000. A charging order secures the debt against your property.
  • If your creditor applied for a CCJ on or after 1 October 2012, they can apply for a charging order even if you stick to the terms of the judgment.
  • If your creditor applied for a CCJ before 1 October 2012, they can only apply for a charging order if you have missed one or more payments.
  • The creditor can apply for an interim charging order to stop you from selling the property before the final order is made. An interim charging order is usually made automatically and does not mean that a charging order has been made against you.
  • A hearing will be required for a final charging order. At the hearing the court will decide whether or not to make the interim charging order final. You must attend this hearing.
  • A charging order, means that when you sell your property, you have to repay your debt from the proceeds of the sale. It does not mean you have to sell it.
  • If a creditor wants to force you to sell your property, they will have to apply to the court for an order for sale. In practice, orders for sale are hardly ever granted for consumer debts under £25,000.
  • You can put forward arguments against a final charging order and you can also ask for conditions to be attached to a final charging order which make it harder for the creditor to force a sale. In reality, it can be very hard to stop a charging order being granted.
If the debt is in your sole name and the property is in joint names, the court can only make a charging order on your share of the property. This means they can only record a restriction.
For judgments made on or after October 1st 2012, the creditor cannot apply for an order for sale unless you have defaulted on your repayments and the arrears remain unpaid on the day of the order for sale hearing.
ReferenceSee charging orders for more information.

Attachment of earnings

Photo of a payslip. The payslip is a mock up the names and all oCreditors can obtain a court order to get money deducted from your wages and paid directly to them as long as you are working for an employer. Your employer will send the payments to the court and the court will send the money to your creditor.

To work out the deductions, the court works out the minimum amount of money you need to live on. This is called the protected earnings rate. Deductions can only be taken out earnings above this amount.

Your creditor won’t be able to get an attachment of earnings order if:

  • the amount you owe is less than £50, or
  • your take-home pay is always below the protected earnings rate.

Your creditor can’t apply for an attachment order if you’re:

  • self-employed
  • unemployed
  • full-time student
  • a pensioner
  • in the army, airforce or navy
  • in the merchant navy.

If a creditor applies for an attachment of earnings, the court will send you form N56 . You must give details of your circumstances: your partner’s financial details, other creditors you have and your employer’s details. The form has to be returned to the court within eight days.

It is an offence not to send back the form or to give false information. You will served with an order to fill it in, followed by a notice to attend a hearing. You must go to this hearing, otherwise you could be arrested and brought to court or sent to prison for up to 14 days.
You can ask for a suspended attachment of earnings order by ticking a box under item 10 on form N56 and giving your reasons. If the court agrees, no deductions will be made from your wages unless you don’t keep up the repayments you’ve agreed to.
The most common reason for applying for a suspended order is the potential impact an attachment of earnings order can have on your job, especially if you are in a position of trust, handle money or work in the financial sector in any capacity. Both the creditor and the court will take this into account since losing your job would also mean losing the ability to repay the debt.
You can ask the court to reduce the amount of deductions requested by your creditor, you need to do this within 14 days of the date of the original order. If your circumstances change later on, you can apply to the court to change the terms at a hearing.
If you leave your job for the order stops being paid but it isn’t cancelled. It will come back into operation if you get a new job. You must tell the court about your new employer, it is a criminal offence not to provide this information.
If you are out of work, you can apply to the court to cancel the order altogether.
ReferenceSee attachment of earnings for more information.

Statutory demand/bankruptcy petition

Bankruptcy FormA creditor can serve you with a statutory demand, which is a final demand for payment in full. You have 18 days to apply to the court to have the demand set aside, otherwise the creditor can present a bankruptcy petition. At the time of writing, a bankruptcy petition can be presented for debts over £5,000.

  • Statutory demands can be issued by creditors as a way to frighten people into paying even when they have no intention of petitioning for bankruptcy, however, you cannot count on this.
  • Getting a statutory demand set aside when the creditor has obtained judgment can be difficult unless you have good reasons to dispute the amount or the debt.
  • It may be a good idea to try and negotiate a repayment plan with your creditor in exchange for withdrawing the demand.
  • You may wish to propose alternative methods of enforcement such as an attachment of earnings or a voluntary charge on your property.
ReferenceSee statutory demands for more information.