The Sheriffs Are Coming has to be my favourite programme at the moment.
While every episode is the same – with Employment Tribunal and County Court money judgments finally catching up with rogue landlords and former employers – there is something quite satisfying watching people who’ve been cheated and bullied send Phil and Grant Mitchell looking High Court Enforcement Officers around to collect their debts. The bonus is watching disingenuous debtors trying to squirm off the hook – with excuses such as, “I’ve never seen this judgment” and “My solicitor’s going to get this set aside” vapourising with the Sheriff telling them s/he has a, “live Writ ordering us to take your goods, now”.
But I doubt every Writ represents a triumph of good v evil.
Many people I see during the course of my pro bono work think even if they don’t file a Defence to court proceedings, there will be a kindly judge who will understand the Claimant’s case has no merit. It’s a revelation to these clients that the court system will process claims and allow claimants to enter judgment in default unless they file a Defence within the prescribed time limits. And it’s a shock when they realise that judgments are immediately payable (unless otherwise noted on the Order).
“Immediately payable” means the judgment creditor is entitled to enforce right away. Depending on the type and amount of the judgment, enforcement can include a Sheriff’s visit to collect goods in lieu if a debtor cannot come up with cash on the spot.
Obviously, the moral of the story is to avoid court and tribunal judgments in the first place. It means dealing with matters as they arise – and not ignoring letters with the hope it will all go away.
It means getting independent legal advice before that county court judgment is transferred up to the High Court and the Sheriffs arrive.