Problem: In 2020, I had to take a client to court. My claim was for approximately £7,000.00, which represented the outstanding amount on the bill I had sent to the client when I had completed her extension.
There is no need for me to go into any detail about the case, simply because I was successful and obtained a County Court Judgement in my favour. It has now been several months since the case, and despite me writing to the client chasing up what the Court awarded, I have received no payment.
I have looked online to see what I can do, but there are many different ways to try and secure the monies owed and is confusing. Could you advise me the best way to try and secure the monies I am owed?
Response: Firstly, congratulations on winning your case. You did not say whether you engaged any professional help with the court case, although because the value is less than £10,000, I assume that you would have managed the case yourself, or perhaps with ad-hoc assistance from a professional.
Ways to enforce a judgement debt can be confusing, and unfortunately there is not a one-size fits all. My first bit of advice is to instruct an asset tracing company to carry out an asset search on the judgement debtor. This will give you a good idea of the worth of the judgement debtor and whether she is good for the money owed. It will also allow you to consider the most appropriate enforcement process. Below I set out some of the popular ways to enforce a CCJ:
Writ of control: To enforce a CCJ, an application is made to the County Court for a warrant of control – essentially, you are requesting the Court to appoint a bailiff (CCB) to collect the CCJ. This gives the bailiff the power to visit the debtor’s home and collect the money you are owed, or to seize goods that could be sold to repay the CCJ.
You can also ‘up-grade’ your CCJ to the High Court, which involves making an application to the High Court for a writ of control which will be enforced by a High Court Enforcement Officer (HCEO). HCEO’s are licensed by the High Court, and you can directly instruct a company that specialises in enforcement. The HCEO will attempt to recover the debt, court fees, interest and enforcement costs from the judgement debtor. All you will need to pay upfront is the application fee (£66), and the notice of enforcement / compliance fee (£75 plus VAT).
HCEOs have more power than CCBs and have a higher success rate. They are authorised by the Lord Chancellor and work privately or in private companies. HCEOs enforce outside of regular working hours, including weekends, and, other than the compliance fee, a HCEO will receive no income if enforcement is unsuccessful, unlike CCB’s who are salaried civil servants and work to standard working hours.
Due to the limitations and workloads of CCBs, it can take much longer to begin enforcement which is not ideal when you require prompt action.
Third party debt order: This will only be applicable where the judgement debtor is owed money by another party, in which case you can seek to obtain an order that the other (third) party pay to you what they owe to judgement debtor. In effect, you intercept payment of money due to the judgement debtor from a third party and use it to satisfy your CCJ.
Charging order: Under the Civil Procedure Rules, Rule 73 and the Charging Orders Act 1979, a judgment debt may be enforced by securing a charge over the judgment debtor’s land or securities and then seeking a sale of such land / securities and satisfying the judgment debt from the proceeds of sale. In order to consider this, you will need an asset search done.
Attachment of earnings: Under the Civil Procedure Rules, Rule 89, as the judgment creditor, you can apply for an attachment of earnings order. This is a direction that the judgment debtor’s employer transfer a specified amount of their salary to the judgment creditor on a regular basis until the judgment debt is satisfied. Again, it is a form of interception of money due to the judgment debtor. The threat of obtaining an attachment of earnings order is sometimes more effective than actually obtaining one. Of course, the judgement debtor needs to be working for an employer to make this work.
Petition for his bankruptcy: A statutory demand can be issued, but there is no reason why you cannot immediately petition for the judgement debtor’s bankruptcy. That said, the petition will need to be made to the High Court and can cost around £5,000 in court and legal fees, and I consider that there is little point in spending more monies to make the judgement debtor bankrupt, at which point you get nothing back. That said, you could serve a statutory demand on the judgement debtor (which is straight forward and at nominal cost), to see if it persuades her to make payment.
I hope the above is helpful, and don’t forget that you have 6 years from the date of the CCJ to enforce the same.
© Michael Gerard 2021
The advice provided is intended to be of a general guide only and should not be viewed as providing a definitive legal analysis.
Michael is a Solicitor, Chartered Builder & Registered Construction Adjudicator, and is a director at Michael Gerard Law Limited, a solicitors practice regulated by the SRA.