If you’ve issued civil court proceedings, obtaining a judgment for damages and/or costs against the opposing party might seem like the natural conclusion to the dispute. However, in reality, there is more work to be done before you can receive what you are entitled to.
What happens when you obtain a judgment?
Once you (as the judgment creditor) have obtained a judgment as the successful party, you can usually assume that the other party (known as the judgment debtor) will comply with the judgment and pay you. However, this does not always happen. You might need to take extra steps to ensure that the judgment is satisfied, whether that’s payment, delivery up of goods or any other relief. It is not the case that the court will automatically enforce its own judgments. The burden is on you as the judgment creditor to take these steps.
What should I do before enforcing a money judgment?
- Check that the judgment is due and enforceable – you must give the judgment debtor an opportunity to pay the debt first. They must have either failed to pay it or failed to pay an instalment of the debt if this is what the court ordered. The standard time limit for payment is 14 days from the date of the judgment, but this can be changed by the court under certain circumstances.
- Make sure that the judgment debtor has been served with a copy of the judgment.
- Investigate the judgment debtor’s assets and assess whether they have any significant assets against which judgment can be enforced. If so, the nature and cost of the assets need to be evaluated. You could consider asking the judgment debtor directly about this or you could perform searches of public registers (such as the Land Registry or the Insolvency Register) or appoint an enquiry agent to gain information.
- Try to act as quickly as possible. Any delay to enforcement could affect limitation or give the judgment debtor an opportunity to move away or dissipate their assets.
The different methods for enforcing a money judgment
The methods available to judgment creditors are set out in Part 70 of the Civil Procedure Rules. They include the following:
- Writs and warrants of control – you can take control of the judgment debtor’s goods by issuing a writ or warrant of control. This will command a court enforcement officer or bailiff to take control of and sell the goods to pay off the judgment.
- Charging order – this method charges the assets of the judgment debtor (such as land or securities) to the extent of the amount of the debt.
- Third party debt order – obtaining this form of order will command sums owed to a judgment debtor by a third party to be frozen and seized for the benefit of paying off the debt.
- Attachment of earnings – a proportion of the judgment debtor’s employment earnings can be deducted by their employer at source and used to pay off the debt.
- You can apply to commence insolvency proceedings against the judgment debtor. If this is an individual, the debt must be at least £5,000 or more to commence bankruptcy proceedings. If a company owes the debt, the debt must be at least £750 to commence winding up proceedings.
- There are also other types of enforcement method. However, these are more specialist in nature and rarely used, such as writs of sequestration or appointing a receiver.
Which method should I choose?
No two cases are the same, so it is difficult to identify a single suitable method of enforcement at the outset. However, it is always useful to bear the following factors in mind when making this decision:
- Does the judgment debtor own goods of significant value? Writs or warrants of control are the quickest and most popular methods of enforcement used, but they only work if ownership of the goods can be proved, and the goods owned by the judgment debtor are valuable enough to settle the debt.
- Does the judgment debtor own any land? If so, are they the sole owner and do they have substantial equity in the land? If they own land or a house jointly with a third party, using a charging order will prove to be a slow and unsuitable method of enforcement.
- Do you have sufficient evidence about the judgment debtor’s circumstances and employment before enforcing? This will be important if seeking third party debt orders or an attachment of earnings, which are less popular anyway because of the evidential burden and the time it takes to recover the sums due.
- Does the judgment debtor have any other debts or court judgments against them? If the answer is yes, then commencing insolvency proceedings might be ineffective.
- If your enquiries show that the judgment debtor is or is likely to become insolvent, it may not be worth taking any steps to enforce because your likelihood of recovering the full debt under an insolvency procedure is slim.
Whichever method you choose, it will involve making an application to the court so that the enforcement process can commence and proceed swiftly.