Debt Recovery

Enforcement of Judgments

When it comes to the enforcement of a judgment, some debt collection agencies and debt recovery solicitors are more than happy to instruct either County Court or High Court bailiffs automatically.

While sometimes that may be the best course of action, a different method of enforcement may be more suitable and that can be gauged only by considering each judgment and debtor individually.

Unlike many of our competitors, we at Burnetts do deal with each judgment and debtor individually. That permits us to advise our clients on the best means of enforcement, which in turn allows the client the best possible chance of recovery.

General Information on the methods for enforcing a money judgment

There are various methods of enforcement that can be used to enforce a money judgment. A judgment creditor can use any method available, and several methods can be used simultaneously, or one after the other, except where a statute or rule provides otherwise. Note that a judgment creditor needs the leave of the court to levy execution (on goods) while an attachment of earnings order is in force (section 8(2)(b), Attachment of Earnings Act 1971). Insolvency procedures, although not strictly enforcement, can also be used.

Writ of Control and Warrant of Control

Execution against goods is a very popular method of enforcing a judgment debt. It can be done quite speedily. It requires the issue of a court document (in the High Court, a writ of control; in the county court, a warrant of control, which commands an enforcement officer to seize and sell a judgment debtor’s goods (provided they are not exempt goods or do not belong to a third party), and raise funds to satisfy a judgment debt. Obviously, this method depends on the judgment debtor having goods of sufficient value. The enforcement officers can also take payment in full or take payment by instalments (subject to agreement with you)

Third party debt order

By third party debt orders, sums owed to a judgment debtor that are in the hands of a third party, such as a bank, are frozen and seized for the benefit of the judgment creditor. Third party debt orders are not the most popular method of enforcement, as they depend on there being a third party debt. However, they can be useful where the judgment creditor knows that the judgment debtor has a bank account into which his salary is paid.

Charging orders

A charging order is a way of securing a judgment debt by imposing a charge over a judgment debtor’s beneficial interest in land, securities or certain other assets (CPR 73). This prevents the judgment debtor from selling the land without paying what is owed to the judgment creditor, provided that there is enough equity after payment of prior creditors. Note that an application for a charging order calls for the court to exercise discretion and it will be looking to see that enforcement by this method is proportionate. Therefore, the court may not choose to secure a small judgment (for instance, £100), when this could be enforced by another method. A charging order is most effective when there is substantial equity in a property and the judgment debtor is the sole owner.

The process for obtaining a charging order can be slow, and a charging order of itself does not realise funds to satisfy a judgment debt. That requires a sale of the property, which does not automatically flow from the obtaining of a charging order. The judgment creditor has to apply subsequently for an order for sale of the property, or simply await its sale in due course by the owners, or following an order obtained by other creditors.

Attachment of earnings

An attachment of earnings order provides that a proportion of a judgment debtor’s earnings is deducted by his employer and paid to the judgment creditor until the judgment debt is paid (CCR Order 27). It is only available against individuals and in the county court, although a judgment can be transferred from the High Court to a county court for the purposes of obtaining an order. It is a popular method of enforcement, as it is inexpensive and fairly easy to do. Automatic deduction from wages means that you do not have to rely on the debtor making payment. However, it depends on the judgment debtor being in employment and it can take a long time to pay off a large judgment debt by this method.

Also, where the judgment debtor has other creditors and his total indebtedness does not exceed £5,000, the court has a duty to consider whether the debtor’s liabilities should be dealt with together under a county court administration order (Section 4, Attachment & Earnings Act 1971).

Under a county court administration order, the judgment debtor makes one payment to the court each week or each month. The money might be taken from his earnings. No interest is payable. While the judgment debtor is paying, his creditors cannot take any further action against him without asking the court first.