If you have won your Case and obtained a Judgment (or default judgment) against the defendant, the Court will write to the defendant ordering him to pay you the sum owed ‘forthwith’.
The assumption by the Court is that the defendant will obey the order and pay. If he refuses to pay, there are a number of options available to Enforce the Judgment. However even with the array of enforcement options available to you, the Court cannot guarantee that you will get your money, as none of the enforcement options will work if the defendant is a Man of Straw (no income/assets).
At this point in proceedings there is a change in terminology which you need to be aware of; as there has been a Judgment in the Case (the Case is over), the defendant is known as the ‘Judgment Debtor’, you are the’ Judgment Creditor’.
There are of course court fees associated with enforcing a judgement, although you will get the money back if your enforcement is successful. All enforcement options applicable to the Small Claims Court (described below) have a flat fee of £100, an Order to Obtain Information (also described below) costs £50 (figures correct as at Jan 2013).
Obtaining information about the defendant's assets or Income
Each of the Enforcement options targets the income or assets that the defendant may have. If you are unsure what income or assets the defendant has, you can apply to the Court for an ‘Order to obtain information’. This is a useful way of getting information from the judgment debtor which will help you decide whether it's worthwhile taking an enforcement step (at all) and if so, which of the methods of enforcement is most likely to get the money owed to you. If you use this procedure, the judgment debtor will be ordered to come to the court to be questioned, on oath, by a court officer. The kind of information you will receive from this process includes:
• employment status, details of employer and salary;
• details of dependents and outgoings paid from income;
• details of any additional income;
• details of any property owned (house, car, caravan, etc.), which may have a saleable value;
• details of any bank or building society accounts and the balances in them.
What options do I have to Enforce a Judgement?
Attachment of Earnings Order (AoE)
If the defendant has a regular income from work, the Court can write to his Employer and have a weekly/monthly deduction taken from his salary. AoE's are administered by the Centralised Attachment of earnings Payment System (CAPS); the defendant's employer makes the deduction from his wages, you receive a cheque in the post from CAPS.
Warrant of Execution
If the defendant is likely to have enough goods at his address which could be sold at auction to raise money, you can ask the county court bailiff to visit the address and take property up to the value of the sum owed.
Third party Debt Order
A Third party debt order is usually used to freeze a defendant's bank or building society account. The money you are owed is then paid to you from the account. The Third party in this context is the Bank or Building Society.
If the defendant has a Property, land or investments, then a Charging order prevents the defendant from selling these assets without paying what is owed to you. You will not get your money until the defendant sells the asset(s) concerned. However in some circumstances you may be able to ask the court for an order to force him to sell the assets. Interestingly you can use a Charging order in addition to any of the other enforcement options. e.g. if you choose an Attachment of earnings order to enforce, it may take the defendant 1-2 years to to pay the debt in full. If you suspect that the defendant may go bankrupt during that time, or quit his job and disappear, you can place a charging order on his property or investments to cover yourself if that happens.
HM Courts provide a well-written 'Form' outlining your Enforcement options: EX321 - I have a judgment but the defendant hasn’t paid - What can I do?
Judgments, CCJ's and the Defendant's Credit Rating
Details of the Judgment (which is known as a CCJ or County Court Judgement) are entered in a Public register - The Register of Judgments, Orders and Fines and then passed to various credit checking agencies, this affects the defendant's credit score, making it more difficult for him to get Credit. A CCJ will normally remain on the Register for 6 years. If however the defendant pays the judgment (i.e. pays you) in full within one Month, he can ask the Court to cancel the entry in the Register and his credit score will not be affected.
MY CASE: I won the Case but the defendant ignored the judgment. I knew the defendant was a home owner and had a steady job, and I was initially tempted to send in the Bailiff's (warrant of execution) but this was for the wrong reasons - he'd been a nightmare to deal with. In the end I went for the more sensible/reliable option of an Attachment of Earnings order (AoE). The defendant was ordered to provide details of his pay & outgoings - which I received a copy of - and then a Judge determined that he should pay £45 per month (his take home pay was £1000pm), I appealed this decision and attended a Hearing, and was able to persuade the Judge that the defendant had exaggerated his outgoings to make it appear that he had less disposable income than he actually had. The Judge agreed and changed the monthly payment to £80 with a protected earnings limit of £800(*). This means that it will take a full 2 years to clear the debt, which isn't ideal, but with the Case over, it has allowed me to forget about what happened and move on. I was worried that the defendant would 'disappear' so I considered applying for a Charging Order as well, but once the monthly AoE payments started arriving from CAPS (you receive a cheque in the post) I relaxed a little, and didn't go for the CO in the end.
(*) AoE orders have a 'Protected Earnings' limit, in my defendant's AoE, the protected earnings limit was £800, if the defendant's earnings drop below that limit, the AoE payment is not taken from his wages for that week/month.