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Following last week’s media coverage of Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s “unpaid debt” issued to 10 Downing Street in October 2020, the outstanding County Court Judgment (CCJ) was widely reported and discussed by everyone from key commentators to money advisers and members of the public on Twitter and elsewhere online.

At Registry Trust, we maintain the Register of Judgments, Orders and Fines for England & Wales on behalf of the Ministry of Justice, the information from which is made public on our website TrustOnline where anyone can carry out a search on themselves or any individual or business to see whether they have a CCJ against them. Our role as a not-for-profit independent intermediary is to use this ‘public data for public good’ and one of our key agendas is to improve public awareness and education of the CCJ process to help address indebtedness and financial vulnerability.

What captured our attention with the story was not the fact that the Prime Minister had an outstanding CCJ record on our Register, but the headlines, which read:

The commentary on Twitter followed a similar theme with only the odd individual correcting some of the glaring errors.

It is clear from this coverage that there are many widely held myths around the CCJ process which are not helpful to consumers and businesses who may find themselves with a CCJ debt. This is more than a case of just semantics. For those that are already bewildered by the court process and overwhelmed by emotive issues around debt, we need to be very careful with the terminology we use to ensure that they don’t become more financially vulnerable as a result of misunderstanding and misinterpretation.

Here, we look beyond the headlines to try and correct some of the false assumptions made:

Myth 1: An outstanding CCJ on the Register of Judgments, Orders and Fines is always ‘still unpaid’

First things first, the assumption that the outstanding record on the Register automatically means it is an ‘unpaid debt’ is a false one. Because of the current legislation, we believe that there are many outstanding CCJ records on the Register which have been paid in full but not formally ‘satisfied’.

This is because so many people are unaware of the fact that once a CCJ debt is paid, in order for it to be marked as ‘satisfied’ on the Register, the defendant must provide the relevant court with proof of payment. This final step in the process of ‘satisfying’ a CCJ is often not taken, even when a debt is paid off in full.

Under the current system, there is also no mechanism for showing on the Register when a CCJ debt has been partially settled, even when the defendant and claimant have come to a mutual agreement. The case may therefore be ‘closed’ in the eyes of both parties, but the full outstanding amount will remain on the Register as ‘unsatisfied’ for six years.

We are currently working on a ‘Partial Settlements Register’ to address this and we are also lobbying for the CCJ process to be changed so that claimants and not defendants are legally responsible for having paid CCJ debts formally marked as ‘satisfied’ to avoid the situation where those that have paid off CCJ debts continue to have their credit file impacted due to lack of knowledge/ understanding of the ‘satisfaction’ process.

Myth 2: Creditor/claimant information is publicly available

BBC News initially reported that the Prime Minister’s’ legal team were “surprised” that the claimant data was not included in the record. Again, this is an unfortunate result of the current legislation which we are lobbying to change.

Our Register of Judgments, Orders and Fines for England and Wales currently only shows the defendant’s details. Claimant data for England and Wales has never been publicly available, and this should come as no surprise to legal experts. Although, due to a quirk in the way the system was set up, we can publish claimant data for other jurisdictions such as Scotland and Northern Ireland.

We would like to see the name of the claimant included on the register as this lack of transparency is unfair to consumers and businesses who have a CCJ raised against them. Moreover, including the claimant name would be beneficial for regulators such as the Financial Conduct Authority or OFGEM. This would allow regulators to identify easily which regulated firms are unduly aggressive in enforcing debts against vulnerable consumers.

Myth 3: CCJs can be ‘cancelled’ months after they have been issued and appeared on the Register

The media reported that the judgment was to be ‘cancelled’/’struck out’. Again, this is not how the CCJ process works. It is important that the public understands why responding quickly to a claim is vital to avoid a potential series of further issues to unfold which could hamper their financial resilience.

A CCJ can only be ‘cancelled’ if the judgment amount is paid in full within a calendar month from the date of the judgment. If this happens, it will be removed from the public Register and credit reference agencies will be informed, if and only if the claimant and/or defendant provides proof of payment to the court and the court informs Registry Trust. Even then, it may be wise to apply for a ‘Certificate of Cancellation’ to be absolutely sure.

If more than one calendar month has passed, a CCJ can be ‘set aside’. To do this, the defendant must contact the court that issued the judgment and fill out an N244 form explaining the reasons the judgment should be set aside and enclose a £255 court fee. Some may be entitled to help with these fees. If the court approves the application to ‘set aside’ the CCJ, the defendant will be given a new hearing where a judge may order the judgment to be set aside. Alternatively, if the defendant and claimant both agree the judgment should be removed, a consent form can be put before a judge for a court fee of £100. If the judge approves the consent form, the judgment may be set aside, and Registry Trust will be notified to remove the judgment from the public Register.

As you can see, there are a lot of ‘ifs, buts, and maybes’ involved in this and the process of having a CCJ ‘struck out’ is nowhere near as simple as the media headlines suggest. No matter who you are, the rules are the same. However, it is clear to see how those in financial difficulty can quickly experience further problems if a CCJ is not dealt with quickly. Fear and misunderstanding around the CCJ process can mean that many don’t take action or get help soon enough. Media coverage suggesting that a CCJ can be cancelled months later is therefore not helpful in addressing this.

What can we learn from this?

The fact that this story involved the Prime Minister has brought issues around CCJs into the spotlight and created a stir. For us at Registry Trust, the most important thing is the opportunity to dispel some of the myths around CCJs and raise awareness about how the process works. CCJs can impact your ability to access affordable credit or hamper your ability to get a job/rent a property/secure insurance. It is therefore disappointing to see how much misinformation there is about the process, which could make the situation worse for those who find themselves in a similar position. We would urge influencers from across the financial services, money advice, and debt landscape – including media commentators – to ensure that the public is properly informed about what currently happens when a CCJ is issued and how to deal with it. This is an opportunity to put things right.

As for the issues with the current legislation/CCJ process highlighted above. We hope that this case and the commentary around it highlights the urgent need for change.

We have created a ‘Learn’ section on our website with key information about dealing with Judgments, Orders and Fines in England & Wales including how to satisfy/remove a CCJ https://www.registry-trust.org.uk/rt-learn-ew/. The TrustOnline website also features useful Help Topics.

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