New survey and report shows court users calling for greater freedom of choice after huge County Court delays

A new survey of court users has found that almost 99% support a greater freedom of choice – enabling them to use a High Court enforcement route – when recovering outstanding debts.

The call from court users comes following significant delays in the County Court system. The vast majority – 86% – of court users reported experiencing delays when using the County Courts, with many citing they have stopped trying to recover some debts altogether.

This means that individuals and businesses are just writing off money they are owed rather than dealing with the current court system. As a result, many businesses are having to increase their prices to absorb these losses, or risk going into debt themselves.

A new survey and report, ‘Supporting Court Users – A Right to Freedom of Choice’ produced by the High Court Enforcement Officers Association (HCEOA), sets out a compelling case for a change in regulations to allow court users to choose a High Court Enforcement Officer (HCEO) to enforce judgments and recover debts under £600.

Under the current system, court users must use a County Court Bailiff to enforce judgments and recover debts under £600, but can choose a High Court Enforcement Officer to enforce judgments of between £600-£5,000.

It found that:

  • Almost 99% of court users support freedom of choice – to choose whether they want to use a County Court Bailiff or High Court Enforcement Officer to enforce their judgments and recover their debts.
  • An overwhelming amount, 96%, of court users would like a change in regulations – to give them the option of using a High Court Enforcement Officer to recover debts under £600 instead of a County Court Bailiff.
  • 97% of court users are concerned about the backlog of cases in the County Court, with 86% experiencing delays.
  • Just 5% of court users think the current system is effective and meets their needs.
  • 35% of court users would issue more claims for under £600 if they were able to choose a High Court Enforcement Officer to enforce their judgments and recover their debts.

Government could solve this problem today. A small change to the High Court and County Court Jurisdiction Order 1991 would allow High Court Enforcement Officers to enforce judgments and help creditors recover debts of under £600. This would give court users freedom to choose another option.

Alan J. Smith, Chair of the HCEOA, said: “We strongly believe that the Ministry of Justice should give court users a greater freedom of choice to allow them to decide for themselves who they want to enforce their County Court Judgments.

“While £600 might not sound like much, for a small business, or a creditor owed multiple, smaller debts, this soon adds up and puts them at risk of becoming the debtors of tomorrow.

“This reform can be delivered simply and easily by the Lord Chancellor and Ministry of Justice, and we will be campaigning to ensure that the voices of individuals and businesses from across England and Wales who are owed money through no fault of their own are heard.”

This solution has been backed by the Civil Court Users Association.

Robert Thompson, Chair of the CCUA, said: “A Civil Justice system is only effective if its judgments can be enforced. Over many years, County Court Bailiff enforcement has been poor. The recent establishment of Warrant of Control support centres was not requested by court users, delays enforcement, is a further deterioration, and effectively signals a complete lack of appetite to provide the enforcement service which has been requested and paid for. In that context, if effective and efficient enforcement is to be possible, it is clear that it must be opened up to the private sector.

“With that in mind, the CCUA fully supports the proposals made by the HCEOA. Continued ineffective and inefficient enforcement would be contrary to the interests of court users and risks damaging the credibility of the court service.”

Changes to the current regulations would alleviate delays to the court system, giving the County Court Bailiffs the time needed to work through the backlog of cases from outstanding judgments, and take on new cases from creditors who do not want to transfer up lower amounts of debt.