What is a County Court Judgment?
If you find yourself in the unwelcome position of owing, or being owed, money, you might ultimately enter the world of the county court claim and the county court judgment (CCJ).
Ideally, financial disputes should be resolved amicably out of court. If, however, the two parties cannot reach an agreement, the creditor (owed the money) can take court action against the debtor (owing the money).
The debtor, which like the creditor could be a person or a business, will be sent a form by a county court and must respond to that form within 14 days. The response might be to pay the full amount claimed, to pay only part of the amount claimed (if the debtor denies owing the full amount) or to ‘defend’ (dispute) the claim if, for example, the debtor denies owing any money at all or has already paid the bill. (If the ‘defendant’ – the alleged debtor – denies owing the money, a court hearing might be necessary.) However, failure to respond at all to that county court claim within 14 days might lead the court to formally decide the alleged debtor does indeed owe the money and so issue a CCJ.
NB: If the alleged debtor needs more than 14 days in which to respond to the court claim, the alleged debtor can ask for a further 14 days.
The CCJ will arrive with the debtor by post, explaining how much is owed; whether the amount should be paid in one lump sum or instalments; and by when and to whom the money must be paid. Unless the full payment is made within a month of receiving the judgment, a record of the CCJ is kept on the Register of Judgments, Orders and Fines for six years. This record can make life difficult if the debtor later seeks credit or a loan, as banks and loan companies access the information.
If the debt is paid more than a month after receiving the CCJ, the record will remain on the Register of Judgments, Orders and Fines for six years but the record can be marked as ‘satisfied’. The party in question needs to contact the court, proving the full amount has been paid and paying – currently – a £15 court fee.
For a small charge (presently £4), anyone can search their status on the Register of Judgments, Orders and Fines.
If, even after receiving the CCJ, the alleged debtor denies owing the money claimed, the alleged debtor can ask the court to ‘set aside’ (cancel) the judgment.
As mentioned, you should at least try to settle your dispute before making a court claim. A mediation service might be a faster and more cost-effective option. Mediation is when an impartial person helps the opposing parties try to reach an agreement. Ultimately, a judge might not award you costs (your legal expenses) if he or she thinks you have made no effort to resolve the matter out of court. For example, if you believe you have been supplied with a faulty product or inadequate service, you should not make a court claim before even contacting the supplier in question.
As in all legal matters, precision is paramount. If you do find yourself dealing with court claims and CCJs, taking the advice of a solicitor is recommended. If your claim goes to a hearing, you can pay a barrister or solicitor to represent you.