What to do if you receive a civil bill
When a creditor starts court action in Northern Ireland, they’ll send you a civil bill first, usually by the post. This is a precursor to receiving a CCJ. A civil bill shows the amount you owe to the creditor, usually including additional charges such as court fees and solicitors’ costs, and details the reason for the claim.
If you agree that you owe the creditor the amount stated and you’re able to pay the full amount before the deadline, you can avoid receiving a CCJ. You’ll need to pay the creditor and not the court, so it’s important you check the civil bill for the correct payment address before sending any money.
Make sure you keep a copy for your records of how much you paid and when you made the payment, in case the court asks for proof.
What happens if I can’t pay a CCJ?
If you’re not able to pay the full amount there are still several different ways you can deal with your CCJ, as long as you act quickly.
A CCJ is a priority debt as you risk further legal action being taken against you if you don't respond.
Asking for time to pay
If you agree that you owe the money and the amount being claimed is correct, but you can’t pay in full immediately, you can ask your creditor for time to pay.
You’ll need to contact your creditor directly and arrange time to pay within 21 days of the bill being issued. If you don’t respond in time, you risk the judgment being entered against you, and enforcement action being taken.
There isn’t an official form to request time to pay, so we suggest writing to your creditor with:
- your budget including all your income and outgoings (you can use our budgeting form)
- a list of all your creditors, and
- a suitable offer of payment.
If your creditor agrees to your offer you can ask to have the County Court judgment ‘set aside’, meaning you’ll avoid receiving a CCJ.
If your creditor doesn’t accept your offer, it’s important that you keep negotiating with them. Even if the judgment is entered against you, the chances of it being enforced will be reduced if you can agree on a repayment amount with your creditor.
Entering into a Tomlin order
If you’ve been served with a civil bill and aren’t able to pay the debt in full, you can still avoid receiving a CCJ if you ask your creditor to agree to a Tomlin order. A Tomlin order is a legally binding agreement where you and your creditor agree to put the CCJ on hold, as long as you make set repayments.
A Tomlin order is made up of two parts:
- The consent order
- The schedule
The court grants a consent order binding both parties to the terms outlined in the schedule. The schedule covers details such as the repayment amount and any additional costs, for example interest and charges. If your situation changes and you’re unable to afford your repayments, you may find it difficult to change these terms. If you fail to make the payments, your creditor can start court proceedings again.
While a Tomlin order does have benefits, it’s important to understand the disadvantages that also come with it. For example, your creditor may set your monthly repayments at a rate which is difficult to afford or add extra costs to the amount you owe for drafting the order.
How to defend the claim
You may disagree with the claim made against you, for example, if:
- the claim amount is incorrect
- you don’t owe the money
- the debt is statute barred, or
- you’ve already paid the debt in full.
If you decide to defend the claim, you’ll need to complete form 42, ‘Notice of intention to defend’, and return it to your creditor within 21 days of receiving the bill. If you’ve already received a CCJ and you’re planning to defend the claim, you can apply to the court to have the CCJ set aside.
We strongly recommend you seek expert legal advice before taking this course of action. Defending a claim can be a complex matter, so you need to make sure you’re making the right decision for your situation.
If you’re unsuccessful, it may result in significant costs being added to the amount you already owe.
Common CCJ questions