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    Rent arrears

Enforcing a court judgment

Once a Court judgment is obtained, the Defendant will usually have 14 days in which to settle the relevant sums. If it fails to do so, the landlord will need to consider enforcement options.

The main enforcement options are summarised below and assume that the debtor is not in any form of insolvency. Unpaid judgments can be used as the basis on which to petition for an individual’s bankruptcy or apply to wind-up a company, although these options can be considered for pursuing rent arrears without the need to obtain a Court judgment. Other enforcement options are also available but much less common and so not covered here, e.g. a writ of sequestration, an order of committal etc.

Enforcement Option Key points to note Pros Cons
Seizing goods via Court Enforcement Officers (Writ/warrant of control – enforcement through bailiffs)
  • In the County Court, the bailiff can usually only recover debts up to £5,000
  • County Court judgments are therefore often transferred to the High Court to enable the appointment of a High Court Enforcement Officer (HCEO)
  • After giving appropriate notice, the HCEO will seize and sell the debtor’s goods by public auction to pay the debt (if this proves necessary)
  • The application should be reasonably straightforward and the process is usually fairly swift
  • The debtor is given a further opportunity to pay the sums due; goods are not removed immediately if the debtor agrees not to dispose of the goods
  • The HCEO may recover his/her costs using the proceeds from the sale of the goods
  • Relies on the debtor having goods of sufficient value to settle the debt
  • Risk of potential reputational damage if a debtor tenant publicises the landlord’s approach
  • Risk of temporary/permanent suspension of the writ/warrant upon application by the debtor, although this should require evidence of special circumstances
Third Party Debt Order, e.g. against the bank account of the debtor
  • This application allows the seizure of sufficient funds from the debtor’s bank account to settle a judgment
  • The application is made without notice so the debtor cannot move money out of the account in advance
  • In order to make the application against a bank account, the creditor needs to provide (a) the name and address of the branch where the debtor’s account is believed to be held; and (b) the account number
  • An interim third party debt order is generally made to freeze funds pending a hearing for the Court to decide whether to make a final order (at least 28 days later) – with the hearing often involving significant costs
  • The debtor may respond to the threat of the application or the interim order by making payment
  • The Court will not grant speculative applications and so the application must have sufficient evidence to support the belief that the debtor has an account with the bank in question
  • If there is insufficient information to evidence this, the judgment creditor would first need to apply for an order requiring the debtor to attend court to provide the relevant information - such applications usually involve significant costs
  • A creditor is only entitled to the amount in the relevant bank account on the day the order is served and there is no guarantee as to how much that might be
  • The process usually takes a number of months to complete
Attachment of Earnings Order
  • This type of order is only available against individuals and in the County Court – although a High Court judgment can be transferred to the County Court in order to access the option
  • Provides for a proportion of a debtor’s earnings to be deducted by his/her employer and paid to the creditor
  • Reasonably inexpensive and usually straightforward to obtain
  • Can be refused and substituted with a County Court administration order where the total debt (including other creditors) is not above £5,000 – which would prevent further action against the debtor without the Court’s permission
  • Requires the debtor to be in employment
  • Can take a long time to pay off a large debt via this route
Charging Order
  • Can be made over land or securities (e.g. UK government stock, shares, unit trusts) owned by the debtor

Three-stage process

  1. The creditor applies for an interim charging order – with land, this order will be noted at Land Registry to prevent the debtor from selling the property
  2. A Court hearing is required to make the charging order final
  3. The charge can then be enforced by applying for an order for sale – this requires a further hearing
  • The first two stages of the application should be reasonably straightforward and the process is usually fairly swift
  • A hearing is not usually necessary for the initial interim charging order application
  • Will only be useful if the debtor owns suitable property
  • It usually takes a few months to obtain the final charging order but applying for an order for sale will take additional time
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