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i The advice on this page applies to residents of 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’re responsible for enforcing judgments made by the small claims court, County Court and High Court.

Officially, the EJO is a court, which means its officers have to act fairly to all parties involved in a case and shouldn’t act in a way that would be harmful or cause you unreasonable hardship.

They’ll usually take your individual circumstances into account before deciding on the most appropriate method, or methods, of enforcement.

If you fail to cooperate with the EJO the consequences can be serious, as you may be considered in contempt of court.

If you receive a Northern Ireland County Court judgment (CCJ) and any stay of execution has been lifted, your creditor may choose to enforce the judgment through the EJO. Your creditor will apply to the EJO and pay the associated court fees. These fees will be added to your debt.

Their application includes form 1, ‘Notice of intent to enforce a money judgment’. The EJO will then serve you with this notice, usually through the post. In some cases, the EJO will give you papers in person, but this is more likely to be for debts relating to property and repossession rather than for a CCJ.

If you receive a notice of intent, there’s no need to panic. You have at least eight days to respond, either by paying the debt and fees, or coming to an arrangement with the creditor. If you’re struggling to pay your CCJ, or any other debts, we’re here to help with support and advice tailored to your situation. You can use our online debt help tool, or call our free helpline for advice.

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What happens if my creditor doesn’t accept my offer?

If you can’t come to an arrangement with your creditor before the deadline, they may apply for full enforcement action.

Or, if you fail to respond to the notice at all, your creditor may apply to the EJO for ‘discovery’.

Once the EJO receives a discovery application and a court fee, they’ll investigate your situation and make a report detailing your means and any assets. They’ll give this to your creditor. Your creditor will use the information to help them decide what action they should 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’ along with the court fee to the EJO.

At this stage the EJO will add your details to their public debt register. These will remain on there for six years. Anyone can search the online register for a fee of £10, including lenders, employers and some legal professionals.

You’ll also have to pay the EJO’s court fees and any other associated costs. The EJO will contact you directly and arrange an interview. They’ll discuss your financial situation and present the information you submit in a statement of affairs. If they need additional information, they may decide to contact your bank or employer.

After the EJO accepts an application for enforcement, they’ll issue a custody warrant, meaning all your goods will be in the ‘custody and possession’ of the EJO. A custody warrant covers all the goods at your home, at any other premises you have, as well as items in other locations which may be jointly or solely owned by you.

However, there are exceptions to what the warrant covers. The EJO won’t include any essential items, such as clothing, furnishing or perishable food items.

You’ll also be able to keep:

  • goods including motor vehicles which you’ve taken out on a hire purchase or conditional sale agreement
  • tools of the trade up to the value of £200

You won’t be able to sell any of the items covered under the warrant, or give them away, damage them, or try to dispose of them. If you’re caught doing any of this, it’ll be treated as a criminal offence, which is punishable by a fine or even imprisonment.

Once they finish gathering information, the EJO will decide on the most appropriate method(s) of enforcement, which may include selling your belongings to repay the debt and court fees. Even at this stage, it may still be possible to avoid enforcement action if you make a suitable offer of payment and are allowed to make the payment directly to the creditor.

Unlike your creditor, the EJO may accept a lower payment offer as they have to take your individual circumstances into account and act fairly. To support your offer, you should include a budget showing your income and outgoings, as well as a list of all your creditors. We can help you complete your budget, 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’ll look into your financial situation. The EJO is a court, so their officers will act fairly and in a way that won’t 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

After the EJO has examined your situation, if you’re employed they may decide to enforce your judgment through an attachment of earnings order (AEO).

The EJO informs your employer to deduct the instalments to repay the debt directly from your wages. Your employer has to cooperate as the EJO, and if they don’t, they may face a fine. When an AEO is enforced, your individual circumstances are considered. To prevent you from experiencing any hardship, the EJO will set a ‘ protected earnings rate’.

The rate will depend on your household composition and how much your essential bills are. If your wages ever fall under this amount the AEO won’t be taken. You can expect the EJO to take around 50% of any money you have left above the protected earnings rate. An AEO can’t be made against you if you don’t have a pay-as-you-earn (PAYE) income, you’re a serving member of the armed forces or a merchant seaman.

Instalment order

If an attachment of earnings order isn’t possible, for example if you’re self-employed or a member of the armed forces, then the EJO may choose to enforce your judgment through an instalment order. You’ll be notified in writing by the EJO about how much you have to pay. The amount is based on your examination of means, and you’ll be set a protected earnings rate.

The rate will ensure you and your family have enough money every month for all your essential household and living costs. Each month you’ll pay the creditor and not the EJO. If you miss a payment, your creditor will inform the EJO, and they may apply for committal proceedings against you. If this happens you’ll be summoned to attend a committal hearing before the EJO Master, a judge of the High Court, where you’ll 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 had the means to pay a debt but failed to do so, they may send you to prison for up to six weeks.

Order charging land

An order charging land places a charge over your property, essentially changing the debt from unsecured to secured.

The order doesn’t give your creditor the right to force you to sell your property. But, if you decide to sell your property while the order is in place, some of the money from the sale will be given to the creditor to repay what you owe, before any is given to you. Usually, an order charging land will be made with another method of enforcement, such as an attachment of earnings order.

You’ll be sent a ‘notice of intention to make a charge’ by the EJO, as will anyone else with an interest in the property, such as your partner. Once you receive the notice, you’ll have eight days to object in writing. If there’s no objection, or your objection is dismissed, the order will be made and registered by your creditor with the Land Registry or Registry of Deeds.

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

Once this happens, the order will be in place for 12 years. An order charging land is the only enforcement power that includes interest charges, set at 8%, which you’ll start paying from the date the order is registered until the debt is paid in full.

If you complete the repayments in less than 12 years you can apply for a certificate of satisfaction, which you’ll need to give to the Land Registry or Registry of Deeds to have the order charging land removed.

If you’re unable to repay the debt and interest in full during this time, after 12 years it won’t be secured against your property anymore.

Seizure order

A seizure order tells the chief enforcement officer at the EJO to seize your goods and sell them to pay the debt and any enforcement costs.

Only items that solely belong to you can be seized. There are also items that can’t be seized under the order, such as:

  • Goods you’re paying through a hire purchase or conditional sale agreement
  • Perishable goods, such as food
  • Tools of the trade up to a value of £200
  • Clothing and essential household furniture

Seizure orders are rarely used by the EJO for personal debts. However, if you don’t cooperate with the EJO, or your ‘material wealth’ doesn’t match the information gathered during the examination of means they may use this power. Once you’re notified that the order is being made, you’ll have eight days to object to it.

We strongly recommend seeking expert legal advice before submitting your application if you’re planning to object to a seizure order.

The EJO will take your goods and place them in storage. To have your goods returned, you’ll need to come to a payment arrangement. However, your goods still won’t be released until you’ve paid the debt in full as well as any costs associated with seizing and storing the goods.

If you can’t come to a payment arrangement then your goods will be sold at auction to repay the debt and cover the EJO’s costs. Usually, your goods will be taken and sold within 60 days, so it’s important you act as soon as you’re told about the seizure order.

Order appointing receiver

During the examination of means, the EJO not only investigates your current situation but also whether you’re about to receive any money from third parties. This could be:

  • a compensation payment
  • the sale of a property, or
  • an inheritance.

If this is the case, the EJO can enforce an order appointing a receiver, meaning the third party must pay the money directly to the EJO. Unlike other enforcement powers, the order appointing receiver is not made on notice, so you won’t have a chance to object before the order is made.

However, once you’re informed about the order, you can object in writing to the EJO Master. They’ll arrange a hearing which you must attend if you want to apply to have the order set aside. The application costs £177 and, depending on your situation, you may be entitled to help with the fee or have it waived entirely.

We suggest you seek expert legal advice to help with your application, and if needed, to attend the hearing with you.

Garnishee order

A garnishee order gives the EJO the power to freeze your bank account and give any available funds to your creditor, as long as the account is in your sole name and is in credit. The EJO serve your bank with the order, and the bank then freezes your account.

While the order is in force, the freeze stops any money from being paid in or withdrawn from the account, including any wages, benefits or bills. The EJO Master will set a hearing, usually two weeks after the order is made, where they’ll decide whether to return the funds to you or pay your creditor.

If you’re planning on objecting to a garnishee order we strongly recommend you seek legal advice to help you prepare for the hearing.

If you receive a garnishee order, it’s important that you act quickly as any bills due to be paid either by Direct Debit or standing order won’t be processed. You’ll need to contact your service providers and make alternative payment arrangements, to make sure you don’t fall behind on any priority household bills.

You’ll also need to do the same for anyone attempting to pay funds into your account, such as your employer, and arrange to have the money paid into a different account or by another method. If it’s vital you have access to the funds before the hearing, for example, to pay essential bills or buy food, you should contact the EJO as soon as possible. They’ll schedule an emergency hearing and may release the money back to you.

Certificate of unenforceability

As well as the power to enforce a judgment, the EJO also has the power to decide when a judgment shouldn’t be enforced. For example, if after investigating your individual circumstances the EJO is satisfied you can’t repay your debts within a reasonable period they may issue a certificate of unenforceability. Usually, this will be granted if you’re on a low income and you don’t have any assets.

The certificate doesn’t write off the debt, but it does mean that no further enforcement action will be taken in relation to it. The EJO will add the certificate to their debt register, which will affect your credit rating and ability to take out further credit.

The EJO won’t 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. However, in practice, it’s rare this happens.

Free debt advice

If you're worried about enforcement action being taken against you our friendly team debt advisors can you give expert advice on the EJO and what to do next.

We can also recommend debt solutions to help you manage your debt problems and give you clear and impartial advice on how to deal with your debts.

Use our online debt advice tool to get expert advice now or, if you prefer to talk to someone, you can call our helpline.