Judgment enforcement – time for change

On 6th October 2021, HCE Group ran a roundtable in collaboration with CICM, chaired by their CEO, Sue Chapple.

The audience was a cross-section of highly respected industry experts from solicitors, businesses and industry bodies who had come together to discuss whether the High Court and County Courts Jurisdiction Order 1991 should be changed.

The roundtable followed on from the published results of survey run by the High Court Enforcement Officers Association (HCEOA), which asked court users whether the Jurisdiction Order should be amended to allow creditors to choose to use High Court Enforcement Officers (HCEOs) to enforce judgments below £600.

Currently, only County Court Bailiffs (CCBs) can enforce sub £600 judgments and Consumer Credit Act regulated debt.

The outcome of the roundtable

In the roundtable, Alan J Smith of HCE Group and chair of the HCEOA, confirmed that these lower value judgments are worth HCEOs’ time enforcing. He confirmed that the industry is very happy to work with the Ministry of Justice to get the fees right for all parties. He said that HCEOs are already enforcing employment tribunal awards with no minimum debt value – the model exists and the system works.

These were the main points raised in the roundtable, which were agreed by all present:

Where we are today

  • There is not an appropriate set of enforcement options today
  • The industry needs to fully open for HCEOs, with transparency on fees, enforcement companies accountable and league tables so they can be judged on results
  • Reform is needed now, delivered in a compliant way considering the needs of debtors
  • Part of that reform is automation; to speed up transferring and issuing writs
  • Creditors should also have choice for enforcement of regulated debt. There is no justification for the distinction
  • Fees for lower value judgments need to be appropriate for the level of debt

The county court route

  • Most cases currently are not even reaching the CCB, as they go into the warrant of control call centres. The client has already gone through debt collection; they don’t want another call centre, they just want their money back
  • There is a lack of information from CCBs on why they didn’t get a result
  • Opening up choice would allow CCBs to focus on process serving and the enforcement of possession orders, where 40-week delays are common

What is needed going forward

  • Looking forward, enforcement is integral and that will only increase in the coming years, especially as Covid business loans have to be repaid. Doing nothing is not an option
  • Education is important. Debtors need better understanding of the consequences of not paying debt and how a more collaborative approach can reduce stress and mental health issues
  • For businesses credit checks are often forgotten and contract terms and conditions are “a tsunami waiting to happen” as businesses have tinkered with theirs over the years and they may not be fit for enforcement
  • The more debt recovered, the greater the benefit to the creditor and UK plc. SMEs can be significantly impacted by bad debt, sometimes going out of business. The cost of not taking action to reform enforcement is high

In conclusion

Robert Thompson, Civil Court Users Association Chair, commented in the roundtable that:

“There is not really any choice currently for regulated or sub-£600 judgment enforcement. I want to open the Jurisdiction Order to regulated debt as well as sub-£600 because County Court Bailiffs cannot cope. Training to look out for vulnerability and affordability will be important for the private sector, who will do that well.”

We would like to thank everyone who took part for their insightful contributions. You can download the HCEOA survey report from www.hceoa.org.uk.

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