Enforcement proceedings are a way of obtaining the Court’s assistance in recovering payment following a Judgment. They can only be made after a Court has entered a Judgment in your favour, so enforcement proceedings should not be seen as an alternative system of claiming money from another party – more as a procedure by which you can try to secure payment of the amounts awarded to you following a successful claim.
In the majority of cases, enforcement proceedings will not be required, as a Defendant (the party you claimed against) will usually comply with a Judgment when they can. It is when a Defendant is refusing to pay, having difficulty complying, or delaying payment that enforcement proceedings should be considered.
This page focuses on enforcement proceedings (also known as ‘enforcement actions’) for County Court Judgments. This can encompass enforcement following successful Small Claims (usually valued at no more than £10,000) as well as higher value claims which were dealt with under the Fast Track or Multi Track procedures.
Enforcing a County Court Judgment
When the County Court enters a Judgment against a Defendant, a time limit will be set for payment (see below). This may also be accompanied by other terms.
If the time limit or other terms of the Judgment are not followed, you may begin enforcement proceedings. If you do so, you will have to pay a Court fee. The amount of the Court fee depends upon the type of action that you wish to take (more on these below). You may, however, add this Court fee to the amount that you are owed by the Defendant.
If you have instructed solicitors to assist with your enforcement action, they will only be able to claim back their legal costs from the Defendant if your original claim was dealt with under the Fast Track or Multi Track procedures. This cannot be done for enforcement following a Small Claim. This means if you instruct solicitors to help you to enforce a Small Claim, you are likely to be responsible for their legal costs.
Time limits for payment of a County Court Judgment
If the Judgment was made following a Small Claims hearing then the Judge will have confirmed how long the Defendant is allowed for payment.
If a default County Court Judgment was made (i.e. a Judgment made because the Defendant did not respond to your N1 Claim Form within the designated 14-day time period), the Court will have given you the option of how long you would like to give the Defendant to pay. This could have been immediately, by instalments, or in full by a certain date.
The Defendant has the option of requesting more time to make payment and/or putting forward alternative arrangements. If this happened, then you would have been sent details by the Court and been allowed to decide whether to accept the Defendant‚ A proposals for payments or not. If you didn’t accept the Defendant’s proposals, which there is no obligation to do, then the Court would have fixed the rate of payment.
Options for enforcing a County Court Judgment
You can request a variety of orders remedies from the Court in an enforcement action. Depending on the circumstances of your case, some may prove more effective than others. They include:
- Order to attend Court for questioning – You may request the Court order the Defendant to attend the Court to provide evidence (i.e. answer questions) of their income, expenditure and any assets. If the Defendant is a limited company/business then you may request an Officer (usually a Director, Owner or Secretary) from the limited company/business attend Court and provide details of their accounts. Following the questioning/attendance at Court, you may then decide if you would like the Court to take further action to collect your payment from the Defendant. Commonly, this is done by using another method of enforcement, so this Order may be helpful for gathering information about the Defendant and their assets if not much is known. The Court fee for this process is £59.
- Warrant of Control – You may request the Court instruct their own bailiffs to collect payment. The first stage is that the bailiff will ask the Defendant to make payment within 7 days. If payment is not received then the bailiff will usually visit the Defendant’s home or place of business to see if the Defendant has any assets or anything of value which may be sold to pay the Judgment debt. You must be owed £5,000.00 or less to apply for a Warrant of Control through the County Court. The Court fee to pay for this process is £71.
- Writ of Control – This is similar to a Warrant of Control but is issued through the High Court, and requiring a lower debt threshold (you must be owed at least £600 to use this process). Even if your original claim was made in the County Court, it is possible to transfer the enforcement proceedings to the High Court, provided the £600 minimum debt requirement is met. The Writ of Control involves instructing a High Court Enforcement Officer – essentially a private bailiff – who can visit the Defendant, in a similar way to the County Court bailiff, in order to try to obtain payment or take control of assets which may be sold to pay the Judgment debt. The Court fee to pay for this process is £71.
- Attachment of Earnings – If you believe that the Defendant is employed then you may request that the Court take money from the Defendant’s wages to pay the Judgment debt. This is done by the Court sending an order to the Defendant’s employer. The court fee to pay for this process is £119.
- Third Party Debt Order – If you believe that the Defendant has money in their bank account, building society or business account then you may request the court freeze this money. Thereafter, the Court will then determine if the money in the account may be used to pay the Judgment. The Court fee to pay for this process is £119
- Charging Order – You may request the Court put a charge on the Defendant’s land or property. Subsequently, if the land or property is sold, then the Defendant will be required to pay this charge before they receive the sale proceeds and/or balance of the sale proceeds. The Court fee to pay for this process is £119.
- Bankruptcy – If you would like to bankrupt the Defendant then you have to present a bankruptcy petition to a Court. Essentially, a bankruptcy petition is an application to the Court for the Defendant’s assets to be taken and then sold to pay their debts and/or the County Court Judgment. This is a fairly complex process so the majority of people will use a solicitor to assist them. Should you have any questions about making a Defendant bankrupt then you may wish to contact the Insolvency Service. However, you will need to prove that you are owed at least £5,000, or that you are owed a share of debts totalling at least £5,000. As such, if your County Court Judgment debt is less than £5,000.00 then you will not be able to apply to make the Defendant bankrupt. In terms of the court fees, you must pay a £990 deposit (for managing the bankruptcy) and £302 for court fees.
A word of warning on enforcement proceedings
Even by taking enforcement proceedings over a County Court Judgment, there are no guarantees that you will recover any or all of the money owed to you. If the Defendant does not have any assets or the means to make payment – or a particular method of enforcement does not work – then you may be unsuccessful in recovering your Judgment debt. Any Court fees and other expenses you have incurred in bringing the enforcement action would also then be added to your losses. As such, the potential risks and benefits of any prospective enforcement proceedings should always be considered carefully before action is taken.