We aim to make our website as accessible as possible. However if you use a screen reader and require debt advice you may find it easier to phone us instead. Our phone number is 0 8 0 0 1 3 8 1 1 1 1. Freephone (including all mobiles).
i This advice applies to Northern Ireland only.

What is the Enforcement of Judgments Office (EJO)?

The Enforcement of Judgments Office (EJO) is part of the Northern Ireland Courts and Tribunals Service.

They are responsible for enforcing judgments made by the:

  • Small claims court
  • County Court
  • High Court

The EJO is a court. This means:

  • Its officers must act fairly to all parties
  • They should not act in a way that:
    • Is harmful or
    • Causes unreasonable hardship
  • They take circumstances into account before choosing enforcement methods
  • You can be considered in contempt of court if you do not cooperate with the EJO

The people you owe use the EJO to enforce if you get a Northern Ireland County Court judgment (CCJ).

  • They apply to the EJO
  • They pay the court fees
  • They add those fees to your debt

A 'stay of execution' means the people you owe cannot enforce the CCJ through the EJO.

The application includes form 1, ‘Notice of intent to enforce a money judgment’:

  • The EJO serves you this notice, usually through the post
  • Sometimes the EJO gives these papers in person. They do this more for debts relating to:
    • Property and
    • Repossession

Do not panic if you get a notice of intent. You have at least eight days to respond, either by:

  • Paying the debt and fees, or
  • Coming to an arrangement with the people you owe

We can help if you are finding it hard to pay your CCJ, or any other debts.

Use our online debt help tool, or call our free helpline for advice.

Are you struggling to pay a CCJ or other debts?

Money worries?

Find out how we can help you.

Get help now

What happens if my creditor does not accept my offer?

They may apply for full enforcement action if you cannot come to an arrangement before the deadline.

They may also apply to the EJO for ‘discovery’ if you do not respond to the notice.

Once the EJO receives a discovery application and a court fee, they will:

  • Look at your situation and
  • Make a report showing:
    • Your means
    • Any assets
  • They give this to the people you owe

Your creditor will use the information to decide what action to take.

What can happen next?

To enforce the judgment against you in full, your creditor will need to:

  • Submit form 3, ‘Application for enforcement of a money judgment in the Enforcement of Judgments Office’
  • Pay the court fee to the EJO
  • You have to pay back the EJO’s court fees and any other costs.

At this stage the EJO adds your details to their public debt register. They stay there for six years.

Anyone can search the online register for a £10 fee. This includes:

  • Lenders
  • Employers
  • Some legal professionals

After the people you owe apply, the EJO will:

  1. Contact you for an interview
  2. Ask you about your finances
  3. Put the information you give them in a ‘statement of affairs’
  4. Maybe contact your bank or employer for more information

The EJO will then issue a custody warrant if they accept the application for enforcement.

This means all your goods will be in the ‘custody and possession’ of the EJO.

A custody warrant covers:

  • All the goods at your home
  • Goods at any other premises you have
  • Items in other locations which you own jointly or solely

There are exceptions to what the warrant covers.

The EJO cannot include essential items like:

  • Clothing
  • Furniture
  • Perishable food items

You can also keep:

  • Goods you have on a hire purchase or conditional sale agreement
  • Tools of the trade up to £200 in value

You cannot:

  • Sell any of the items covered under the warrant
  • Give them away
  • Damage them
  • Try to dispose of them

It will be treated as a criminal offense if you are caught doing any of this. Itis punishable by a fine or imprisonment.

The EJO will decide on the best method(s) of enforcement after they gather all the information.

This may include selling your belongings to repay the debt and court fees.

At this stage, it may still be possible to avoid enforcement action if:

  • You make a suitable offer of payment, and
  • You are allowed to make the payment directly to the creditor

Unlike the people you owe, the EJO may accept a lower payment offer. They must:

  • Take your circumstances into account
  • Act fairly

Include a budget to support your offer. This shows:

  • How much you have coming in
  • What you have going out
  • Any other debts you have

We can help you with this, or you can use our budget form.

What methods do the EJO use to enforce a judgment?

Before the EJO decides what method of enforcement to use, they will look into your financial situation. The EJO is a court, so their officers will act fairly and in a way that will not cause you unnecessary hardship.

They may apply one or more of the following:

  • Attachment of earnings order
  • Instalment order
  • Order charging land
  • Seizure order
  • Order appointing receiver
  • Garnishee order

Attachment of earnings

The EJO can enforce your judgment through an attachment of earnings order (AEO) if you are employed.

An AEO tells your employer to deduct debt repayments from your wages.

  • Your employer must cooperate with this
  • They face a fine if they do not

Your circumstances are looked at when an AEO is enforced.

The EJO sets a ‘protected earnings rate’ to makes sure you still have what you need.

  • The rate depends on:
    • Your household composition
    • How much your essential bills are
  • The AEO will not be taken if your wages ever fall under this amount
  • Expect the EJO to take around 50% of any money you have left above the rate

An AEO cannot be made against you if:

  • You do not have a pay-as-you-earn (PAYE) income
  • You are a serving member of the armed forces
  • You are a merchant seaman

Instalment order

An AEO might not possible if:

  • You are self-employed
  • You are a member of the armed forces

In this case, the EJO may choose to enforce your judgment through an instalment order.

The EJO tells you in writing how much you have to pay.

  • The amount is based on your examination of means
  • You will be set a protected earnings rate

The rate makes sure you and your family have enough money every month for your essential household and living costs.

You monthly payments go to the people you owe and not the EJO.

If you miss a payment:

  • Your creditor will inform the EJO, and
  • They may apply for committal proceedings against you

Committal proceedings means:

  • You will have to attend a committal hearing
  • You will speak before the EJO Master, a judge of the High Court
  • You will need to explain why you missed the payment

The court can either set another order or adjourn the hearing.

In some cases, if the court thinks you could have paid a debt but did not, they may send you to prison for up to six weeks.

Order charging land

An order charging land places a charge over your property. This changes a debt from ‘unsecured’ to ‘secured’.

The order does mean your creditor can force you to sell your property.

But, if you decide to sell your property while the order is in place, money from the sale will be given to the creditor before any is given to you.

An order charging land is usually made with another method of enforcement, like an attachment of earnings order.

You are sent a ‘notice of intention to make a charge’ by the EJO. This also goes to anyone else with an interest in the property, like your partner.

You have eight days to object in writing.

We strongly recommend you seek expert legal advice before objecting to an order charging land.

If you do not object or your objection is dismissed:

  • The order is made and registered by your creditor with the Land Registry or Registry of Deeds.
  • The order is in place for 12 years

An order charging land is the only enforcement power that includes interest charges, set at 8%.

You start paying these from the date the order is registered until the debt is paid in full.

You can apply for a certificate of satisfaction if you complete the repayments in less than 12 years.

You must give it to the Land Registry or Registry of Deeds to remove the order charging land.

After 12 years it stops being secured against your property if you cannot repay the debt and interest in full.

Seizure order

A seizure order tells the chief enforcement officer at the EJO to:

  • Take your goods, and
  • Sell them

This is to pay the debt and any enforcement costs.

Only items you own alone can be seized.

Things that cannot be seized include:

  • Goods you are have through a hire purchase or conditional sale agreement
  • Perishable goods, like food
  • Tools of the trade up to £200 in value
  • Clothing and essential household furniture

The EJO rarely uses seizure orders for personal debts.

However, they may use this power if:

  • You do not cooperate with the EJO, or
  • Your ‘material wealth’ does not match the information gathered during the examination

You have eight days to object after you are notified of the order.

We strongly recommend seeking expert legal advice before submitting your objection.

The EJO takes your goods and puts them in storage. You need to agree a payment arrangement to have your goods returned.

Your goods are not released until you pay:

  • The debt in full
  • Any costs associated with taking and storing the goods

Your goods will be sold at auction if you cannot come to a payment arrangement. The money will be used to:

  • Pay the debt
  • Cover the EJO’s costs

Goods are usually taken and sold within 60 days.

Act as soon as you know about the seizure order.

Order appointing receiver

During the examination of means, the EJO investigates:

  • Your current situation, and
  • If you are about to receive any money from third parties

This could be:

  • A compensation payment
  • The sale of a property
  • An inheritance

If so, the EJO can enforce an ‘order appointing a receiver’.  This means the third party must pay the money to the EJO.

Unlike other enforcement powers, the order appointing receiver is not made on notice, so you cannot object before the order is made.

However, you can object once you know about the order.

  1. Object in writing to the EJO Master
  2. They arrange a hearing which you must attend to set the order aside
  3. The application costs £177
    • You may be able to get help with the fee or have it waived entirely

We suggest you seek expert legal advice to help with your application or attend the hearing with you.

Garnishee order

A garnishee order lets the EJO freeze your bank account and give any money in it to the people you owe.

The account must:

  • Be in your sole name
  • Be in in credit

The EJO serve your bank with the order, and the bank then freezes your account.

While the order is in force, no money can be paid in or withdrawn from the account, including:

  • Wages
  • Benefits
  • Bills

The EJO Master sets a hearing usually two weeks after the order is made.

They will then decide whether to:

  • Return the funds to you or
  • Pay your creditor

Seek legal advice if you plan to object to a garnishee order.

Make sure you:

  • Act fast
    • Any bills paid by Direct Debit or standing order will not go through
  • Contact your service providers
    • Make other payment arrangements
  • Make sure you do not fall behind on priority household bills

Do this for anyone who puts money into the account too, like your employer.

Arrange to have money paid into a different account or by another method.

Contact the EJO as soon as possible if you need funds before the hearing, for:

  • Essential bills
  • To buy food

They will schedule an emergency hearing and may release the money back to you.

Certificate of unenforceability

The EJO has the power to decide when a judgment should not be enforced.

For example, the EJO may investigate your individual circumstances and decide you cannot repay your debts within a reasonable period.

In this case, they may issue a certificate of unenforceability.

This is usually granted if:

  • You are on a low income
  • You do not have any assets

The certificate does not write off the debt, but no more enforcement action is taken.

The EJO adds the certificate to their debt register. This affects your:

  • Credit rating
  • Ability to take out more credit

The EJO will not accept any more applications for enforcement against you unless:

  • Your circumstances change and
  • Your creditor applies to have the certificate set aside
    • They have 12 years from it being issued to do this
    • It is rare

Free debt advice

Our friendly team debt advisors can you give expert advice on the EJO and other enforcement action.

We can:

  • Recommend debt solutions
  • Give you clear and impartial advice

Use our online debt advice tool or call our helpline to speak to an expert advisor.