With many advice groups and consumer forums now advising debtors to move their vehicles away from their property - so that enforcement agents cannot tell which vehicle, if any, belongs to the debtor - the recovery of judgments, orders and fines is becoming increasingly difficult.
This advice is a blatant attempt to prevent the enforcement of the legitimate sums that are owed to individuals, businesses and Government.
The Sheriffs Office is calling on the DVLA to allow ‘reverse checks’ on the registered keeper details of vehicles where a judgment or order has been awarded or fine has been imposed.
With the introduction of the Taking Control of Goods regulations 2014 came the requirement for High Court Enforcement Officers (HCEOs) to send a notice of enforcement to the debtor. The intention behind this was a final chance to encourage payment to prevent enforcement. This does sometimes happen, but what also happens is that those who have no intention of paying have the opportunity to remove and hide valuable assets, particularly a vehicle.
Why is help for creditors needed?
Many judgments remain unpaid, as can be seen from the statistics below, and creditors need all the help they can get to obtain payment of the amount a judge has determined that they are owed.
According to the Registry Trust statistics, in 2014 there were 803,000 judgments, of which only 115,000 were satisfied (paid after one month) and 59,000 cancelled.
This is quite a dramatic increase on 2013, where there were 652,000 judgments, with 113,000 satisfied and 60,000 cancelled.
Whilst enforcement action will not have been taken against all these judgments, it does show that creditors need all the help they can get to obtain payment of the judgment.
How the DVLA could help
The DVLA holds data on the registered keepers of all vehicles. Whilst this does not always confirm ownership, it does so in the vast majority of cases. Further, they already allow HCEOs to check the registered keeper of a vehicle via the registration number.
What we propose is that the DVLA also allows those organisations to undertake ‘reverse checks’, i.e. checking the person or company details of the debtor to see if vehicles are registered in their name, for the enforcement of judgments, orders and court fines.
Apart from assisting creditors, it would raise significant revenue for Government through council tax, business rates, magistrates court fines, all of which would be of benefit to the overall economy.
These checks could even be extended to help victims of crime and single parents get paid via proceeds of crime and child maintenance.
How it could work
As one of the largest HCEO firms, we know how essential it is to have comprehensive, accurate and up-to-date information about the debtor. As there is a legal obligation to change the registered keeper’s details when a vehicle is sold, the information from the DVLA will be current.
Searches could be done – via the existing systems that are already available to HCEOs and other approved bodies – by debtor name and postcode to check that the right person, and therefore vehicle, has been identified.
The enforcement agent would then be provided with this information and can look for the specific vehicle in the vicinity, by registration number, when attending the premises.
To those at the DVLA, I ask you to support the court system, councils and the creditor by providing a reverse check service.
David is an authorised High Court Enforcement Officer and our Director of Corporate Governance