Time Limits for Enforcing a Court Judgment for a Debt

A brief review of the time limits for enforcing a court money judgment

When a court judgment for payment of money is given the claimant often assumes they are home and dry and that they can take their time over enforcing the order. That is not the case. The Limitation Act 1980 specifies that money judgments must be enforced within six years of being awarded.

However, if you do leave it longer there might still be something you can do.

Section 24 of the Limitation Act says:

An action shall not be brought upon any judgment after the expiration of six years from the date on which the judgment became enforceable

Adding:

No arrears of interest in respect of any judgment debt shall de recovered after the expiration of six years from the date on which the interest became due.

These provisions were considered by the House of Lords in Lowsley v Forbes. In this case the claimants wanted to enforce a judgment out of time. They said they hadn’t been able to enforce the debt earlier because the defendant had fled the country in order to avoid the judgment. It was only when the Defendant returned over 11 years later that the claimants were actually in the position to enforce.

The Lords decided that although the legislation prevented claimants from starting a fresh action, the enforcement of an existing judgment did not constitute a fresh action. Therefore the law lords confirmed that claimants are able to take enforcement action outside the usual 6 year period.

It was important in this case that the claimants did not know where the Defendant was located during the period in question. Nor did they know the location of his assets. Had they been in possession of this information, it is probable that the court would not have allowed them to enforce the debt after so much delay.

The court did specify that the time limit in respect of claiming interest did still apply.

Any attempt to enforce a debt after 6 years have passed will require the court’s permission. It is likely that the court will want to know why there has been a delay in enforcing the judgment before granting such permission.

A defendant can object to late enforcement and present evidence of any prejudice that has arisen as a result of the delay.

So, enforcement of a judgment after the six year period can still be pursued. Nevertheless it is unwise to delay and our recommendation would always be to take steps to enforce a judgment as soon as it becomes possible to do so.

For guidance on enforcing a court judgment for a debt call us on Freephone 0808 139 1606