Dear Metro Law
I am an electrician and run my own business, I often have to deal with delayed and neglected payments from customers after having completed jobs.
I have in the past successfully pursued a debtor through the Disputes Tribunal. The last time I did this the debtor was quick to pay once I had received a decision in my favour.
This year I took another debtor to the Disputes Tribunal and again was successful in having a decision awarded in my favour and an order for the debtor to pay my outstanding invoice. However, several weeks have passed and the debtor has still not paid me.
What are my options for enforcing the Disputes Tribunal order? I would like to achieve this in the most cost effective and time efficient manner.
Thanks for your email. The Disputes Tribunal is an easy to use means of having grievances heard without delays and excessive legal costs. The Disputes Tribunal does, however, have certain drawbacks particularly in regards to enforcing orders.
As you are probably now aware, the Disputes Tribunal will not check to see if an order awarded in your favour has been carried out. While, orders of the Disputes Tribunal are court orders and there are consequences for non-compliance, most of the responsibility will be upon you to ensure that the order is carried out. The enforcing of the order will also require further costs (however, these costs can often be added to the amount owed by the debtor).
The order that you have received should set out in clear details how much is to be paid by the debtor and by when. The debtor is expected to voluntarily comply with the order and you cannot seek to enforce the order until after the deadline has passed. If voluntary compliance does not occur then there are several options available; apply to the District Court to enforce the court order, hire a debt collection agency to collect the debt on your behalf (this may involve further charges) or instruct a solicitor to act on your behalf by drafting a formal letter demanding the debt be paid.
If you wish to enforce the order through the District Court you will need to file the relevant applications for enforcement proceedings. It is important that you have available certain information about the debtor that must be provided to the District Court including the address and contact details of the debtor. The most common enforcement options through the District Court are:
- An Attachment Order – If you know that the debtor is employed (and can provide the court with employment details), the court can order that payments are deducted directly from the debtor’s income. A further court hearing or financial assessment hearing is not necessary and this option is therefore preferable.
- An Assessment of Financial Means Order – If the above mentioned Attachment Order is inappropriate in the circumstances then you can apply for the court to conduct a financial assessment of the debtor, usually over the phone. If the debtor does not comply with the financial assessment then the court can order a hearing which the debtor must attend. This requires the debtor to show whether they are capable of paying the debt and determining what assets they have.
- Warrant to seize property – You can apply to the District Court for a bailiff to seize property owned by the debtor (a car for instance) to satisfy the debt owing.
While pursuing the above enforcement options involves spending money and valuable time on debt collection, they allow you to enforce your rights and ensure that bad debtors don’t get away with exploiting small business owners.
If you wish to discuss this further or have any other concerns, do not hesitate to get in touch with any of our Metro law staff.