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How to get money owed to you

You might have got your court order, but it is up to you to ensure that the debt is actually recovered

Getting a court order in your favour is no guarantee that your opponent will actually pay a debt owed, and it is up to you as the winning party to enforce the judgment and recover the debt. The first step is to determine what assets, if any, your opponent has.

If you are unsure of this, you can apply to the court for an order to obtain information about your opponent. The application fee should be added to the debt owed.

It may also be worth checking at the Registry Trust to see whether your opponent already has
outstanding judgments (www.registry-trust.org.uk). Providing that your opponent does have sufficient assets, there are four main methods of enforcement available. The most suitable depends on the type of assets your opponent has.

n If your opponent owns goods of sufficient value, the first option would be to obtain a warrant of execution. If the debt is less than £5,000, a bailiff will be appointed by the county court to seize goods from your opponent’s property, to sell and realise the debt. If the debt is more than £5,000, the process is similar but an enforcement officer must be
appointed by the High Court.

But money realised from this method is notoriously low.

n If the debt owed is substantial then your opponent may not possess sufficient goods to seize
for the debt to be paid in full. But if they have bank savings, you may be able to apply for a third-party debt order.

This has the effect of freezing withdrawals from your opponent’s bank account. Providing the
account contains sufficient funds, the court will then determine whether you are entitled to receive payment direct from the bank.

n If your opponent has none of these but does own land or property, you might consider applying for a charging order.

This will secure the debt, but you will only receive any payment once the property is sold. It might be possible to persuade the court to grant an order for sale, forcing your opponent to sell the property.

Additionally, your opponent might already have one or more mortgages on the property, leaving you to rank lower in priority and therefore less likely to recover the full amount owed when the property is sold.

n Finally, if your opponent is someone in employment and none of the methods above are available, you might be able to apply for an attachment of earnings. You would receive regular payments deducted from your opponent’s salary by their employer and paid directly to you, provided that your opponent’s salary is sufficient to cover their cost of living after the deductions.

But the instalments may be quite small, meaning that it could be a long time before the entire debt is paid off.

In addition to these four main methods of debt recovery, if the debt is for £750 or more then you may be able to petition for your opponent’s bankruptcy or winding up. But both of these processes are significantly more expensive.

Further information on enforcing a judgment can be found in HM Court Service’s leaflet EX321.

Kate Onions is a solicitor in the construction department at law firm HBJ Gateley Wareing