You have the County Court ordering the person that owes you money to pay, but they don't. What can you do?
You can make an application to the County Court requesting that one of their in-house Enforcement Agents visits the debtor. This normally has an application fee of £77. Unlike High Court Enforcement Officers, County Court Enforcement Agents do not have defined service level agreements, meaning, the level of service that you will receive from them differentiates from location to location and the process can take much longer.
The County Court Enforcement Agent also has a success rate that is significantly lower than that of the High Court Enforcement Officer. So, if your judgment is for an amount that’s greater than £600, I want to suggest you the following process:
Transferring up your Judgment to the High Court to obtain a Writ
A County Court Judgment (CCJ) can be transferred up to the High Court for enforcement. This is a quick and cost-effective process that will enable you to use High Court Enforcement as a safe and accessible means of recovering any outstanding money owed to you.
The process involves completing a Court form called a combined certificate and request for a Writ of Control (a form N293A). Unfortunately, the Court is yet to go digital, so the form is dealt with on paper. This can be a painful administrative process but almost all Authorised High Court Enforcement Officers will do this process for you and for free. As long as you have a CCJ then this Judgment can be transferred up and converted into a High Court Writ within just a few days.
The benefits of having a Writ even before the Enforcement Officer visits the debtor
Once a Writ has been issued, your chances of recovery are enhanced immediately due to the Writ having the effect of ‘binding the debtor's goods in his hands’. This means, that any effort by the debtor to dispose of their assets to avoid the High Court Enforcement Officer from taking them to pay the money they owe after the Writ has been issued could be overturned by a Court order.
The power of binding the debtor's goods upon the issue of the Writ is one not afforded to the County Court Enforcement Agent and this is just one of the reasons that the chances of success are greater when enforced by an Authorised High Court Enforcement Officer.
You have a Writ, what next?
After the Writ has been sealed by the High Court, your Authorised High Court Enforcement Officer will immediately issue a Notice of Enforcement to the debtor. This involves sending a notice allowing the debtor seven days to make payment. This letter is the first step in the enforcement process and is required by the regulations which govern the High Court Enforcement Process. When a High Court Enforcement Officer issues a notice, they also have to allow time for the postage of the notice in accordance with Civil Procedure Rules.
A good Authorised High Court Enforcement Officer will use data, analytics and insight to establish the right strategy before sending this letter. Not many do, so be sure to ask the Officer before instructing them what process they have for establishing the debtor's wealth, working times, spoken the language and alternative contact details. Only appoint an Officer that can demonstrate a great understanding of this and an ability to implement an enforcement strategy that takes these things into consideration.
Some High Court Enforcement Officers will also send the notice by Royal Mail Recorded Post. Most don’t but you should request that they do. Sending the notice in this way will enable you to provide clear evidence that the notice of enforcement has been dispatched and delivered to the address. This reduces the chances of the debtor being able to claim that Notice of Enforcement was not given and suspending the enforcement process.
The debtor failed to pay or respond after receiving the notice, what next?
If a debtor fails to respond to the Notice of Enforcement, the High Court Enforcement Officer will assign the Writ to a field-based Certificated Enforcement Agent. These Enforcement Agents attend the debtor's address to recover the sums that are due. The Enforcement Agent should visit the debtor on a number of occasions to successfully bring the matter to a close. If the debtor refuses to pay on any of these visits, the Enforcement Agent will take control of their assets and can remove them for sale at auction and will distribute the proceeds of the sale to pay the debt and any associated fees.
The debtor failed to pay and had insufficient goods to take control of, what can I do?
Most good High Court Enforcement Officers will place the debtor onto a suitable payment plan and manage that process to recover your funds over an agreed period of time. If the debtor however really can’t pay through either poverty or vulnerability, then the file will be returned to you as unable to recover. If this happens, you are required to pay a fee for the administration and return of the Writ. This fee is set by regulation so it will be the same amount, regardless of which Authorised High Court Enforcement Officer you chose.
OK, I am convinced, how do I find an authorised High Court Enforcement officer?
You can look at the High Court Enforcement Officers Associations website where all Authorised High Court Enforcement Officers are listed along with the businesses that they represent, or you can instruct us. We have access to Enforcement Agents across every square inch of England and Wales, offering a free administration process for the transfer to Writ and use the best data scientists to define the right strategy increasing your chances of success: https://www.just-dm.co.uk/services.
About the Author: Chris Badger
Chris Badger studied business at the University of East Anglia. He has now over 15 years' experience in the industry and sits on the board of the High Court Enforcement Officers Association where he has held the post of industry Complaints Officer since 2014.
Chris is an Authorised High Court Enforcement Officer and the Director of Legal and Compliance at Just.