£600 – arbitrary and irrelevant

When the High Court and County Courts Jurisdiction Order was brought in in 1991, it set a clear distinction between the jurisdiction of County Court Bailiffs (CCBs) and High Court Enforcement Officers (HCEOs), with CCBs enforcing judgments up to the value of £5,000, and HCEOs who could only enforce judgments of £2,000 and above.

A constraint with no relevance

While the £5,000 upper limit for CCBs has remained, the lower limit for HCEOs has steadily come down and now stands at just £600. Even judgments below that amount can be enforced by an HCEO if court fees take it over the £600 mark.

In my opinion this constraint no longer has any relevance: it is such a low amount and prevents many claimants from accessing the many advantages of using an HCEO.

Over-stretched and under-resourced

I regularly hear complaints from claimants that CCBs were either unable to recover their debt, or did not have the capacity to attend promptly. They are definitely over-stretched and under-resourced, often through no fault of their own.

Yet when these claimants instruct an HCEO as a next step (providing the judgment is for £600 or more), many have been pleasantly surprised to find that their case was, after all, enforceable, when a different approach was taken.

HCEOs do have several advantages, most notably they are private sector businesses paid only on results, not salaried civil servants. They can also force entry to commercial premises and tend to work beyond regular office hours, so they can reach more judgment debtors at home.

Removing of the lower limit

I would strongly suggest that the £600 minimum should be removed completely, allowing HCEOs to enforce judgments regardless of value.

I do acknowledge that the charging structure may need to differ for sub £600 judgments, to ensure they are proportional to the original debt, but I believe that the jurisdiction order is creating an artificial and now irrelevant barrier. It is time to give claimants access to a more results-oriented enforcement agent.

Author: David W. Carter, Joint Managing Director – The Sheriffs Office

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Salford Business Centre – The Highs and (more often that not!) the Lows

I thought that this month would be good time for a review of the Salford Business Centre as myself and my colleagues are continuing to experience problems with the service provided.

Unfortunately this would indicate no improvement has been made in respect of the service they provide despite the hard work of Brian Havercroft and the CCUA team which is somewhat disheartening.

A few incidents

Maybe I’m being too harsh on Salford and maybe improvements have been made but from where I’m sitting, I have yet to find them.

l’ll start with a few incidents that have occurred in our office over the last couple of months:

  • Two requests for judgment sent in respect of two defendants. Only one Judgment Order received, so we chased to see if the second judgment request had been dealt with. In response we received a further copy of the Judgment Order we already had and a letter with no reference to our query.
  • Request for judgment in respect of the first Defendant sent on 20 March 2013 and chased up on two occasions in April.  Received a response from Wakefield County Court on 7 May 2013 to advise judgment has not been entered in respect of the first Defendant. It appears Salford sent our letters chasing for the Judgment Order to Wakefield as the case had been transferred out for enforcement in respect of the second Defendant. Letter of complaint sent to Salford 10 May 2013.
  • Judgment in default entered and application for Charging Order made. Subsequently received a Varied Order as it appears an admission form was received by them and not dealt with appropriately.

I’m sure the above examples are not isolated incidents but look forward to being corrected if they are.

The next step

However, moving on, the next step is to look at how the service can be improved and how we can assist with this process. Is further training required? Do they need more staff? Is the process of work allocation flawed?

One idea we came up with in our office was that it would be really useful if any correspondence could be logged on their system as soon as they receive it to ensure actions are carried out in chronological order.

At least then if we need to call them, they could inform us if they have received the relevant document and we can continue with action accordingly.

And on a positive note…

To finish on a positive note and to show light at the end of the tunnel, I have one example of very good service. A  Judgment Order was received whereby the defendant’s name was spelled incorrectly.

A telephone call was made to the Business Centre to inform them of this and two days later we received a informing us the incorrect spelling had been amended.

Maybe in a few months time, we can write a list of positive comments!

Author – Christine Power FCILEx – specialising in Debt Recovery at Lightfoots LLP