Before embarking on time-consuming and potentially expensive litigation against an individual or company, it is often worth checking if that individual or company has sufficient assets to pay any judgment, in the event that you successfully obtain judgment against them.
Whilst obtaining a County Court or High Court monetary judgment would be seen as a success, it is only of any use if the debtor then actually pays the money judgment they owe to you. If they fail to make payment, any judgment would only be a pyrrhic victory. As such, before you embark on the litigation process, it is a good idea to see if the debtor would be able to pay any judgment you obtain. Whilst this process should also be carried out after you have obtained a judgment, it is also wise to carry out such a check prior to commencing litigation.
There are a number of free or low-cost searches that can be carried out relatively quickly, without having to employ the services of any third parties.
Claimant’s own knowledge
Many parties are familiar with the people they bring claims against, either having been in a commercial or another kind of business relationship with them, in either a personal or corporate capacity. As such, it is likely that you would have a good idea of whether your opponent has any assets. You may have visited your opponent’s house or business premises and would therefore be aware of what they may own or what other assets may be available to you. If not, a simple drive-by visit to your opponent’s house could establish whether they have any vehicles or other assets.
HM Land Registry searches
If you know where your opponent lives, you can carry out a search at HM Land Registry (for around £3 per search) to check if they own their property, whether it is owned with another person, and whether it is subject to a mortgage or any other charges. The Land Registry search will often reveal the price paid for the property when your opponent purchased it. You can then compare the price paid against the current valuation of the property (again there are many free valuation sites on the internet) to see if there is likely to be any equity in the property. If so, and you obtain a judgment against your opponent, then you may be able to enforce the judgment by way of a charging order against the property.
Unfortunately, the Land Registry will not allow you to carry out a name search to check how many properties an individual may own unless you have a court order confirming that such a search can be carried out.
The Land Registry search will also not tell you how much may be left to be paid on a mortgage, but as mentioned above, an up-to-date valuation should be able to reveal whether the price of the property has risen in recent years.
Companies House searches
Where your opponent is a limited company, it is advisable to carry out a search for that company at Companies House. Not only will this show the names and addresses of the directors (and some shareholders), but it will also reveal the last set of filed accounts and whether the company is active or not. It will also reveal whether the company is subject to any funding.
As well as carrying out a bankruptcy search against an individual, it is also worth checking the Individual Insolvency Register to see if your opponent is subject to any insolvency restrictions, such as bankruptcy or an Individual Voluntary Arrangement.
For companies, you should search the Insolvency Notices section of the London Gazette to find out whether any winding-up petitions have been presented against your corporate opponent. Again, this will reveal details of who has presented the petition and you can then decide if you wish to support or oppose the petition.
Checks on social media or other websites
Searching your opponent’s Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram, Twitter or other social media websites can often reveal a bit more information about their lifestyle and again may provide you with further information about assets they may have. It can also provide you with information about their current employers, which may assist you in a possible attachment of an earnings claim.
Even a basic internet search may reveal information about your opponent that you were unaware of. Review sites can be useful to look at as they may show that your opponent has a history of poor payment or has had similar claims against them (to your own claim) in the past.
Check for any orders, fines or judgments
Registry Trust (via their website at trustonline.org.uk) maintains a register of existing court judgments, orders or fines against an individual or company in England and Wales. For a relatively low fee of around £10, you can see if your opponent has any outstanding judgments that they have failed to satisfy, which may persuade you that there is no merit in pursuing them.
Ask third parties
If you do not have a relationship with your opponent, you may know someone who has dealt with them in the past. There is no harm in making enquiries about other individuals or companies who may have dealt with your opponent.
Court application to question the debtor
If you have already obtained a judgment and the debtor is refusing to pay, you can make an application to court for the debtor to attend court to answer questions about his/her finances, which will then allow you to consider the best enforcement action. Whilst the questioning is usually carried out by a court official (and you are not normally allowed to attend), this route is still relatively straightforward and inexpensive. However, it can only be carried out once you have the benefit of a judgment.