Small claims: investigate your debtor's finances

If you cannot ascertain the true state of a debtor's finances the small claims court can compel the debtor to come to the small claim court and answer questions under oath concerning their finances and ability to pay the small claim judgment.

Questioning is very often of little use in extracting information that you can act on. Generally, if your debtor has the money to pay you, they will do so after a few reminders. If the debtor doesn't, they are likely to try to avoid you altogether, in which case they will be unwilling to attend a questioning, or, if they do, they will not give you answers that help you. 

If a debtor fails to attend that appointment, the small claim court may, as a last resort, issue a warrant for the debtor's arrest.

Questioning is most effective as a simple way of notifying the debtor that you mean business and will not simply let the matter rest.

For an order to obtain information of the debtor, you should apply to the small claim court where the debtor resides or conducts business. You must complete an Application for Order that Debtor Attend Court for Questioning Form N316 and return it to the court with your fee, currently £45. 

The small claim court will issue an order to the debtor requiring their appearance in court for questioning. The small claim court will also notify you of the date.

You may request the debtor bring documents with them to the hearing to provide details about their means, i.e. payslips, or accounts if they are self-employed, or bank statements.

At the questioning you may directly question the debtor or request the examination be conducted by the Court Officer. Some typical questions include:

  • What assets do you own?
  • Are you owed any money? If so, by whom?
  • Do you have a job? If so, where? What is your pay?
  • Do you have a bank account? If so, where? What is the account number?
  • Do you rent or own your house or flat? If you own, how is the title held? What is the title number if registered? What is the value of the property? What is owed on the mortgage?
  • What other income do you have? Do you own any shares?
  • Does your spouse have a job? Where? On what salary?
  • What other debts do you have? Are there other wage attachments, warrants or third party debt orders against you?

These are illustrative. You can ask any reasonable questions to assist you in discovering how to best collect from the debtor. You should always ask if the debtor wishes to prepare a payment plan. If the debtor proposes one acceptable to you, ask the small claim court to enter it as an order. If the proposed plan isn't acceptable, you at least have the information you need to decide how and whether to proceed against the debtor.

Related Links:

  • Making a Money Claim Online - An Essential Guide

Published on: June 9, 2008

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