Taking the matter to court (Northern Ireland)

Taking the matter to court (Northern Ireland)

Contents

Claiming through the courts

The small claims court for debts not more than £3,000

If your debt is larger than £3000 the creditor can only use the small claims court if they abandon the excess amount of the debt above £3000. A creditor may prefer to do this as the solution available through the small claims court is quicker and it also saves on legal fees. No legal fees are payable in the small claims court, only the court's costs.

If you are served with a small claims application, you will also receive an information pack from Northern Ireland Court Service explaining your options which are:

You can dispute the claim

If you believe you have grounds to dispute the claim, you must outline your reasons and return the Notice of Dispute (which will be provided in your pack) prior to the return date given. The court will then give you the date of hearing. Any documents that you want to use at the hearing, must, at least 10 days before the hearing, be sent to court and a copy sent to the creditor. At the hearing the judge will decide what amount, if any, is to be awarded in judgment. The creditor will be able to enforce the decree for payment of any amount via the EJO (see below). In the small claims court you can't recover any legal costs, even if you are successful and you've had a solicitor deal with your matter.

You can admit the claim

If you admit the claim you will be liable to pay it. If you propose a settlement that the judgment creditor accepts, the court will issue a decree with a stay of execution. As long as you stick to the proposed settlement, the judgement can't be enforced, but if you fail to, then it can be enforced without the need to apply to court again. If the judgment creditor refuses to accept your proposal, they can have the judge determine what a reasonable payment term is.

Settle the claim direct with the applicant

If you settle the claim, the applicant can notify the court and the matter will be withdrawn.

You can counterclaim

If you counterclaim, you must, prior to the return date given, complete and return the Notice of Counterclaim to the court office. The Court will then give you the date of hearing. Any documents that you want to use at the hearing, must, at least 10 days before the hearing, be sent to court and a copy sent to the creditor. At the hearing a district judge will decide if the claim and/or counterclaim are successful and will make an order. If that order is against you the judgment creditor can enforce the decree via the EJO (see below).

The county court for debts over £3,000

If your creditor uses the county court they can get judgment against for both the outstanding debt and their professional legal costs and expenses. So, if you are served with a Civil Bill, you should get legal advice as soon as possible. If you are on a low income you may be entitled to Legal Aid to help you defend your case. You should always take advice before deciding on your best way forward.

If you admit to the debt, don't defend the case, rather contact the creditor or their solicitor to discuss how you may be able to settle the debt.

If you dispute the debt, you must, within 18 days of the Civil Bill being served upon you, send or take a 'Notice of Intention to Defend' together a copy of the Civil Bill to the County Court.

Several months may pass before your case will be heard, because time is allowed for exchange of documents and information between you and the creditor (known as discovery) so that the issues in dispute can be clarified. In this process you'll have to answer formal questions put in writing to you (known as Notice for Particulars). Only once this has been completed will a date of hearing be set.

The High Court for debts over £30,000

If your debt is over £30,000 your creditor will use the High Court. The process is similar to that of the county court, except that if you dispute the debt you'll use a 'Memorandum of Appearance' rather than a 'Notice of Intention to Defend'.

The Enforcement of Judgments Office

The EJO is a division within the Northern Ireland Courts and Tribunals Service. They are responsible for the enforcement of court judgments relating to money, goods and land. The person in whose favour a judgment is made (the applicant/judgment creditor) must apply to the EJO (and pay a fee) if their court order hasn't been complied with. The first step is that a 'Notice of Intention to Enforce' will be served upon you. This is a preliminary step which puts you on notice that a full application will be made to the EJO. It is your last chance to take steps to settle the judgment debt. If you fail to comply with the judgement, then the EJO can enforce the judgment. They have the following options to enforce judgments:

Attachment of Earnings Order

If you are currently employed and can't afford to pay the debt in full, the Enforcement of Judgments Office (EJO) can make an 'Attachment of earnings order'. This means that your employer will be obliged to deduct a sum, specified by the EJO, from your wages and forward that to the EJO, for onward payment to the creditor.

Instalment order

If you are self-employed, the EJO will request payment from you by way of an 'Instalment order'. This will specify the date and amount of each instalment. The payment is made directly to the creditor who will keep the EJO informed should you miss an instalment. You could be sent to prison for failing to keep to an Instalment order.

Seizure order

This order directs the Chief Enforcement Officer to seize sufficient goods or assets from you to secure payment for the debt. The following goods cannot be seized:

  • Your clothes and household furniture
  • Any goods subject to HP agreements
  • Tools of the trade to the value of £200
  • Any goods in the hands of a Receiver which have been appointed by court

Order Charging Land

If you own or have an interest in property, the EJO can issue a charge on the land to secure payment. Once the charge has been registered against the property the creditor will be paid from the net proceeds when the property is sold.

Order Appointing Receiver

Should you receive additional monies from a third party (e.g. from a personal injury claim or in a re-mortgage situation), the EJO can serve this order on the third party, thereby making them the Receiver. Once this order has been served on the Receiver, the Receiver is obliged to forward the net monies to the EJO, who will forward payment to the creditor.