Construction giant Carillion was a prime example of this, without getting paid for their work, they could not pay their suppliers. This ripple effect then filters out into other areas and industries, affecting businesses all over the UK.
So what can you do if you don’t get money owed to you? Some businesses choose to chase the money themselves, others instruct debt recovery firms or solicitors. Depending on how much time you have and to what extent the loss of that money will affect your business, there are different options of debt recovery available to you- all with different severity levels.
Read more on the debt recovery process for small businesses.
If you’ve tried reminder letters or even got a third party involved such as a debt collection agency with no avail; many companies then turn to the Courts for back up. The first point of call with the Courts will be issuing a County Court Judgment (CCJ) to your debtor in an attempt to retrieve your money.
A CCJ is an order from the court to the debtor to pay the money they owe for goods or services they have received from a creditor. A solicitor can file this for you, or you can make the claim yourself on the government website. Don’t forget, there are court fees involved in issuing a CCJ yourself, plus fees for your solicitor should you choose to use one. Issuing a CCJ to a debtor can be very damaging to their business, and would more than likely destroy any relationship you have previously built up; so most businesses see this as a last resort.
A CCJ won’t guarantee your invoice is paid, but it does ensure that if the court agrees you are owed money, they will legally side with you and start legal proceedings against your debtor.
You can either file to issue a CCJ yourself or have your solicitor do it for you. As soon as a CCJ is issued to your debtor, they have 14 days to reply to the Judge to have their circumstances taken into consideration when deciding how they repay the debt. The debtor can accept the claim, detest it, or ask for longer to prepare their defense but only if they reply within 14 days. If the debtor does deny they owe you money, or you aren’t happy with their response you may need to attend a court hearing.
If they fail to respond, the judgment will still be rewarded but without considering their circumstances.
Your debtor’s company credit report will be affected within days after being issued a CCJ; affecting their credit limit and credit score. If the debtor accepts the claim and settles the judgment within 28 days, it will become set aside and removed from their company credit report. However, if the judgment is paid after 28 days or not at all, the CCJ will remain on their company credit report for 6 years- satisfied or not.
Unfortunately, despite the serious implications issuing a CCJ would have, it doesn’t always guarantee payment. CCJs can still go unpaid and remain on a debtor’s company credit report, or, the debtor can agree to the CCJ but then may not stick to the terms that were originally agreed on. You can then ask the court to enforce the judgment, which is the final phase of debt recovery.
There are several ways a court can enforce a judgment for you, whether it's a company that owes you money or an individual.
If a company owes you money, here are some options available to you below:
Using bailiffs is the most popular and arguably most cost effective way to redeem money owed to you. Which type of bailiff and how much power they have to enforce payment is dependent on how much your debtor owes. If your debt is under £600, a warrant of execution will be issued to the debtor giving 7 days to pay their invoice, if they fail to do this, the bailiffs will be sent by the County Court.
If the debt owed is higher than £600, your case will be escalated up to the High Court with an application for a ‘Writ of Control’ which will need to be signed off by a Judge. Once this has been approved, a High Court Enforcements Officer’ (HCEO) will send the debtor a Notice of Enforcement, giving 7 working days to satisfy the judgment in full. If the judgment still isn’t settled the HCEO will attend the debtors business and demand immediate payment. If the debtor refuses or is unable to make full immediate payment on the judgment, the HCEO would seize tangible assets to be sold at auction, which would provide the payment for your invoice.
This option is available if an individual or a business owes you money; it is a means of securing the debt owed to you against a property your debtor owns. If your application is granted, the Courts will first issue an Interim Charging Order, which is then filed with the Land Registry. You will then need to attend a hearing to decide if the order is justified and if the Courts are going to make it binding.
If the Courts agree in your favour, you have two options. The first is to wait until the property is re-mortgaged or sold; when this happens the money owed to you will be taken out of the equity. The second option is to force the issue by taking out an Order for the sale of the property.
If the debt owed to you is from a company that is still currently solvent and they owe you more than £750, you can apply to the courts to have the company closed down through a winding-up petition if the debt is past 21 days overdue. When the company is closed down, its assets will be sold to settle its debt. This is by far the most serious action that can be taken against your company and it is often preceded by a statutory demand. It’s a stringent process and the debt owed to you must be absolutely proven. If there are any disputes about pricing, product quality or any accountancy errors, these need to be ironed out first. It is also worth noting that if any other creditors have secured a claim against this business previously, their debt will get priority.
If an individual owes you money, you can take the below routes:
If you are dealing with an individual that is employed by a company, you can ask the courts to apply an Attachment of Earnings Order. This will require their employer to deduct a percentage or certain amount of their salary regularly as repayment to you until the debt has been settled. Usually, a letter from your solicitor detailing your intensions to your debtor will be enough to get some co-operation as many employees may not want their employer to discover their financial situations.
A bankruptcy petition is an application to the court to seize someone's personal assets and sell them to pay their debt. Similar to a winding-up petition, but for individuals. You need to present your petition and prove you are owed £5,000 or more, there are also court fees that need to be paid.
Whatever route you choose to go down, we would always advise you get professional help as some processes can be complicated and time-consuming.