For many people, their first encounter with a County Court Default Judgment is when one drops on their doormat. They don’t know what it is or what to do with it and they certainly don’t understand why it’s been sent to them.
What is a default judgment?
When someone begins legal proceedings, they do so by sending a claim form to the court. This is then sent to the defendant who is given 14 days in which to respond. If the defendant doesn’t respond within 14 days, the court automatically makes an order requiring the defendant to pay the amount claimed. This is known as a default judgment.
If the defendant responds within 14 days by sending an acknowledgment of service to the court, they are given a further 14 days (a total of 28 days) in which to send in a defence. If the court does not receive a defence, it automatically gives a default judgment against the defendant.
A court order of this kind can be enforced like any other court order and so it needs to be taken seriously. If it’s not set aside, it will need to be paid.
Why have you received one?
If you’ve received a default judgment, it’s because the court thinks that you received the claim form but you didn’t respond to it.
This may come as a surprise to you. You may have had no idea that anyone was claiming anything against you.
The most common reason for this is that the claim was sent to a previous address. The claimant didn’t know you’d moved house and so sent the papers to where they thought you were living. As a result, the court issued the default judgment when you didn’t even know there was a claim against you.
Sometimes, the claim may have been issued to the correct address but at a time when you were away. If you didn’t return to the address in time, you may find you’ve missed the time limit for responding. It’s already too late. The claimant has obtained the judgment and they’re getting ready to send in the bailiffs.
Limited companies often have two addresses – a registered address and a trading address. It’s important to set up good forwarding arrangements so that if any post is sent to the registered address, it’s automatically forwarded to the trading address. Sometimes, if these forwarding arrangements break down, the company fails to respond to the claim in time. This is another common reason why people receive a default judgment.
Is there anything you can do about it?
Issuing a default judgment is an administrative act of the court, which means that it’s done by a member of the court staff, rather than by a judge. This puts it into a different category to other types of judgment.
Although it can’t be appealed, you can apply to have it set aside. A judge will then look at the case and make a decision.
The judgment can only be set aside in certain circumstances. For example, you may need to show that you would have a real prospect of successfully defending the claim if you were given the opportunity.
If you didn’t receive the claim form in the first place, the court is likely to view that as a good reason for setting aside the default judgment.
Sometimes, the claimant will agree to the judgment being set aside, which is likely to mean that no court hearing is necessary.