Enforcement of Civil Court Orders in Northern Ireland
The Enforcement of Judgments Office (EJO) is responsible for the enforcement of court judgments of money, goods and property.
When the EJO may be used
A creditor (the person owed money or wants to recovery goods or property) can make a claim against a debtor (the person who owes the money, or is in possession of the goods or property) in court.
A Court Judgment may then be made giving details of what is owed or to be recovered and to whom. If this debt is not paid, or the goods or property not returned, the creditor may instruct EJO to enforce their court order on their behalf.
In some cases, the EJO may also enforce for a sum of money without the creditor having to go to court. The EJO may also enforce for a sum of money decisions of the Industrial and Fair Employment Tribunals.
Creditors must apply to have their court order enforced using the application forms. The creditor must pay a fee to EJO up front, however, this will be added to the debt which the debtor must pay back.
There is a scheme that can help with the payment of fees if you believe you cannot afford them. You will need to contact the EJO for further information about the Fee Remission/Exemption Policy.
Addressing matters before the EJO becomes involved
If a court order is made stating you should return goods or property, you should immediately contact the creditor to arrange the return of the goods or property named on the court order.
If the court order relates to money, you should contact the creditor and make an offer to repay the debt in full or try to arrange to pay it by instalments. This should always be an arrangement you can afford to keep. If accepted, this may prevent the creditor approaching the EJO to have the debt enforced.
How the EJO recovers debts
The EJO will visit your home or require you go to a pre-arranged meeting (often this will be held in your local court office or sometimes in the EJO Headquarters.
EJO staff cannot force their way into your home but it is in your best interests to go to this meeting or fully comply when an EJO Officer visits you.
The meeting is so the EJO can complete a report on your current financial situation. This will allow it to consider how the debt may be paid back.
You must bring documents to the meeting which confirm your financial position, such as:
- rent books
- mortgage payment books or mortgage account number
- ground rent receipts, rate receipts
- saving books and bank statements
- pay slips
- hire purchase agreements and receipts
- details of debts owed to you
- details of debts which you owe, with creditors statements
- writs or other legal process which have been served on you about unpaid debts
- VAT registration number, National Insurance number
You are strongly advised to go to this meeting. In some circumstances, the meeting can be made by arrangement to suit you, however, you must contact EJO to do this.
If you fail to go to a meeting with an EJO Officer a warrant for your arrest may issue and the PSNI will be required to arrest you and bring you to be interviewed.
Once the report is completed EJO will consider the best way to recover the debt.
Discussing how to pay a debt with the EJO
You may discuss with the EJO how you mean to pay the debt. If you are open and honest in your interview and present a realistic and reasonable offer to repay the debt, it will almost always be considered favourably by EJO.
You may also make a part payment or payment in full at the time of your interview. A receipt will be provided for any payments made and you should keep it safe.
EJO powers to enforce payment of a debt
The EJO has powers, in the form of ‘enforcement orders’, to enforce payment of a debt. The most frequent orders include:
- deductions made by an employer from a person’s wage or salary and sent to EJO (known as an Attachment of Earnings Order)
- instalment orders where fixed weekly or monthly payments are required until the debt is paid
- orders charging land that mean any profit from the sale of a debtor’s property will go to pay off debts before the debtor receives any money
- orders appointing receiver, where EJO intercepts money due to the debtor and uses it to pay off debts, for example, money received from a claim
- garnishee orders, where the EJO can take money directly from a person’s bank account to pay off debts
- order of seizure - the EJO also has the right to seize property and sell it off at auction using the proceeds to pay the unpaid debts
- in the execution of an Order of Seizure, the EJO has the right to enter any land occupied or used by a debtor, their spouse or any of his dependants, or in some circumstances land occupied or used by any other person - the EJO will never seize essentials such as clothing, bedding, cookers, fridges, most furniture and the 'tools of your trade'
- other powers include the power to write to people and organisations who hold details of financial information about you such as banks building societies, employers, other government departments and agencies
- they will provide the EJO will information about your affairs if you do not or cannot provide information to confirm this at any pre-arranged meeting
Rent and mortgage arrears – repossession
The EJO is responsible for the enforcement of land and property orders. If you're behind with your rent or mortgage payments, your landlord or mortgage lender may get a Possession Order that, if not resolved, may lead to you being evicted from your home.
In this situation, EJO staff are entitled to forcibly enter your property (even in your absence). Northern Ireland law states that the EJO must remove “all persons and their goods” when carrying out an repossession.
This means your clothes, furniture and all other goods will be taken away by EJO and safely stored. To have your goods returned, you must pay a fee as advised by EJO (the fee will be the expenses paid out by EJO in carrying out the repossession).
There is a scheme that can help with the payment of fees if you believe you cannot afford them. You will need to contact the EJO for further information about the Fee Remission/Exemption Policy
Arrears on hire purchase goods
The EJO is responsible for the enforcement of court orders which relate to goods on hire purchase, such as cars, boats, or caravans. In this case, the EJO will issue an Order for the Delivery of Goods.
This will be served on the person required to return the goods and the EJO will arrange for the removal and return of the goods named on the court order. The EJO has the right to enter any land on which the Office reasonably believes where the goods are held.
Help and advice
There are a number of local debt help agencies, including:
- Advice NI helps resolve general, legal and financial problems by giving free, independent and confidential advice
- Housing Rights gives help to anyone facing repossession proceedings
- The Samaritans can offer emotional support and help
- Lifeline can offer help if you’re in distress or despair
- EJO help and advice - Department of Justice website