County Court Judgements (CCJ)

Many people are frightened of courts, especially when they feel guilty because they owe money. The county court is not there to judge anyone guilty or innocent, but to settle disputes about money owed and how to repay it. The court is not there to serve the interests of the creditors alone.

If court action is taken, you will not usually have to go to a court hearing. Most of the procedure is done through the post.

Guide to the County Court Process

 

WHAT WILL HAPPEN IF SOMEONE TAKES COURT ACTION AGAINST ME?

You will receive a "Claim Form" from the court (this used to be called a Default Summons). This will come through the post and tell you how much the creditor says you owe. The claim form will usually include details of the debt known as the "Particulars of Claim" but the creditor can send this separately with in 14 days.

IF YOU AGREE YOU OWE THE DEBT - how to reply

There will be a Reply Form with the Claim Form for you to make your offer of repayment. This is called the "Admission Form" or N9a. There are instructions included on how to fill in the form. It looks quite like a Personal Budget Sheet and asks for similar information on income and essential outgoings. When filling in this form -

  • List your other debts - There is a section you can fill in to include the payments you make on your priority debts (section 8). You also have space to include any other court judgments you may have (section 9) on the form and your credit debts as well (section 10 on the form).
  • Make an Offer - It is important to make an offer of payment on the form (section 11). If you leave it blank the court will decide you have not made an offer. They will tell you to pay the whole debt at once or order you to pay the monthly payment the creditor is asking for. If you don't pay what the court has ordered the creditor can enforce the County Court judgement against you.
  • Send it back to the creditor - (Called the "claimant") at the "address for service" - not the court's address. It is very important that you send the form to the "address for service" (at the bottom of Page 2). This might be a solicitor's address rather than the actual creditor.
  • Don't leave it too long! - There is a time limit of 16 days from the date of the postmark to send back the form. If you don't send it back the court will give judgment against you and order you to pay the whole debt in one lump sum. It is a good idea to send it recorded delivery and keep a copy.


JOINT DEBTS - make sure you both reply

If your debt is in joint names your creditor may send out separate Claim Forms to you and the other person who is liable for the debt. You will both need to fill in separate Reply Forms and make sure you put an offer of payment in the 'OFFER OF PAYMENT' box on each form (section 11).

If you leave one form blank, or only send back one Reply Form, one of you may get a judgment telling them to pay the debt in one lump sum. If you have worked out offers of payment to creditors put half of the offer on each Reply Form and enclose a full personal budget sheet and list of creditors.

IF YOUR OFFER IS ACCEPTED

You will receive an Order from the court to pay your offer in monthly instalments. You should send your payments to the creditor - not the court. Keep a record of what you have paid and when.

IF YOUR OFFER IS NOT ACCEPTED

The court will decide (or "determine") what you should pay each month and send an Order confirming this.

If you owe less than £5000 the court staff will decide what you should pay without a hearing.

If you owe more than £5000 the District Judge decides either (a) by looking at the papers or (b) at a hearing in your local county court.

If you cannot afford what the court has decided you should pay, you can apply to the court to look at your offer again. This is called a "Re-determination". There is no fee for doing this. You must do this within 14 days of getting the Order. A District Judge will do the “Re-determination”.

HOW DOES A 'RE-DETERMINATION' WORK?

'Where the Order was made by the court staff (you owe less than £5000), the District Judge can decide to have a hearing or make a decision by looking at the papers. You can ask for a hearing when you write to the court to ask them to look at your case again.

If the Order was made by a District Judge without a hearing (you owe more than £5000) then the "Re-determination" of your offer must be decided at a hearing.

If the Order was made District Judge after a hearing you cannot apply for a "Re-determination" - you can only apply for the monthly payments to be reduced or "varied".

ABOUT HEARINGS

If there is a hearing at any stage, the case will automatically be transferred to your local county court so you can attend. The court will give you a hearing date. You must go to the hearing which should be in the District Judge's Rooms (in private). Take a copy of your Personal Budget Sheet.

IF YOU DISAGREE WITH WHAT THE CREDITOR SAYS YOU OWE

If you don't agree with the amount of the debt they say you owe then you must either: -

  • Fill in the Defence Form. In this case send the form back to the court within 16 days.
    OR
  • Fill in the "Acknowledgement of Service" form and tick the box to say you wish to defend all of the claim. Send the form back to the court within 16 days. This gives you another 14 days after that to complete your Defence Form and return it to the court.
  • If you agree you owe only part of the debt, then you have to fill in both the Admission Form and the Defence Form and send them to the court.

Putting in a Defence or Counterclaim is complicated. Phone us for advice.

REDUCING PAYMENTS ON COURT ORDERS


The monthly payments you have been ordered to make can be reduced if your circumstances change or if you can't afford them. You can apply for a reduction using form N245 that you can get from the local county court office.

FEES

There will usually be a fee to pay with your application. You can ask the court to waive the fee in some circumstances. The form you will need to fill in is called an EX160 "Application for a fee exemption or remission". This form needs to go to the court with your main application. If the court agrees you will not have to pay the fee.

Exemptions from Fees: If you are on Income Support or income-based Jobseeker's Allowance (JSA) you can ask the court for exemption from the fee. You need to give the court proof that you are getting the benefit. If you are on Working Families Tax Credit or Disabled Persons Tax Credit you will be exempt from the court fee if you get the maximum tax credit or if £70 or less a week has been taken off the maximum tax credit payable. You will need to show the court your Working Families Tax Credit or Disabled Persons Tax Credit Award Notice as proof. If your tax credit has more than £70 taken off a week then you can ask for the fee to be remitted or waived by the court.

Remissions

Ask the court for the fee to be remitted (or waived) if it will cause you hardship. You may be on a low income or a benefit that does not exempt you from the fee. Give as much information about your circumstances as you can.

Remember: You can always phone us for advice.

County Courts - Frequently Asked Questions

 

WHAT IF I CANNOT AFFORD THE REPAYMENTS ORDERED?

If you find that you cannot afford to pay the amounts ordered for any reason, such as a drop in income, multiple debts, a relationship breakdown, a new baby or illness:

  • Write to the Fines & Fees Department at the court, which holds the fine. Tell them about your situation and make an offer of repayment - it is also very helpful to enclose a copy of your personal budget.
  • It may be necessary for you to attend a court hearing. However, if the court is sent a personal budget and given full details of your circumstances in a letter, then some courts may accept your offer without the need for a hearing.

WHAT HAPPENS IF I AM ORDERED TO ATTEND COURT AT ANY STAGE?

It is very important that you go to any court hearing. If you do not attend, the court has the power to issue:

  • A Warrant with Bail (private bailiffs will give you another court hearing date).
  • A Warrant without Bail (private bailiffs could arrest you and bring you before the court)
    Or
  • A Committal Warrant to commit you to prison (if there is a suspended sentence already on the fine).

When you attend the court hearing the court will ask for details of your income, expenditure and any other debts you may have. Make sure you take your completed personal budget to the hearing.

The court should take into account your income, expenditure and any other debts when deciding the rate you should pay your fine.

The court may accept a fixed amount of £2.70 per week from someone who is on Income Support/Jobseeker's Allowance or on a low income. It is helpful to take some money to offer to the court, even if it is only your weekly/monthly offer of payment. This will show the court you are not refusing to pay. However, be careful; the court does have the power to search.

WHAT CAN THE COURT DO?

At the court hearing the court can do one of the following:

  • Allow you further time to pay the fine by regular fixed instalments, either at the same rate as when the fine was originally imposed, or at a reduced rate based on what the court thinks you can afford.
  • Remit ("write off") all or part of the fine. If your circumstances have got worse since the fine was set, or if the court did not have full details of your income, expenditure and debts (if any) when the fine was originally set, the court can "write off" or reduce the fine. If an order was made for you to pay compensation or court costs the court can only "write off" these in very exceptional circumstances. Phone us for advice if you need more information.
  • If you are on Income Support/Jobseeker's Allowance the court can order that weekly direct deductions at a set rate be made from your benefit to pay the fine.
  • If you are employed the court can order that deductions are made from your wages to pay the fine.
  • The court can order you to sit at the back of the court for the rest of the day. This would "write off" the fine.
  • Impose a suspended prison sentence or send you to prison straight away. Before they can do either of these, the court must establish:
  •  "Wilful refusal" which means the court thinks you have deliberately refused to pay; OR
  • "culpable neglect" which means you have been careless or thoughtless in not paying. To avoid a prison sentence you must convince the court that you have a genuine reason for not paying. This may be that your circumstances have changed since the fine was set, such as drop in your or your partner's income, a relationship breakdown, a new baby, illness or other debts you are paying. This is why it is important to take a detailed personal budget to court and not be frightened to tell the court if you have other debts to pay, but you need to treat the fine as a priority debt.

If the court imposes a suspended prison sentence it is essential you keep up with the repayments as ordered by the court. If you fall behind with payments again another court hearing will be set.

If you do not attend this hearing, the prison sentence will be activated and private bailiffs can be instructed to arrest you and take you into custody. It may be possible to prevent this happening by writing to the court explaining the reason why you didn't go to the hearing and why you have not paid. Another court date may then be set to consider your circumstances.

Following a case in the European Court of Human Rights in 1996 you are entitled to ask for legal help at a court hearing relating to non-payment of a fine. You may be able to get the Duty Solicitor at the court to speak on your behalf at the hearing. If you have a court hearing coming up contact us straight away.


BAILIFFS

Most courts now use private firms of bailiffs to collect fines by taking your goods and selling them to pay the fine. This is called a "Warrant of Distraint". If your fine is passed to bailiffs you need to check our page about Bailiffs or call us for advice.

Advice on CCJs and Debt Problems

If you are suffering with debt problems then Royal Exchange can help. We provide confidential and impartial advice to people throughout the UK no matter what their financial circumstances.

For more information call us on freephone 0800 028 4422 or complete our enquiry form and one of our advisors will call you back.