Regular readers of the Practical Law Dispute Resolution blog may recall my previous posts about the County Court Money Claims Centre (CCMCC) in Salford. The CCMCC processes hundreds of thousands of Part 7 money claims (plus related applications) each year. In addition, over the past 12 months, it has processed tens of thousands of charging order and attachment of earnings applications, following the centralisation of these enforcement methods in 2016.
I was fortunate to have the chance to return to the CCMCC this summer, to learn more about practice and procedure at Salford – especially in relation to charging orders, attachment of earnings and Help with Fees. Following on from last year’s Sailing through the CCMCC, this blog contains a further and updated collection of practical hints and tips for those who use the CCMCC on a regular or occasional basis.
Charging order applications: ten tips
1. Don’t forget whose application you are completing! When completing section 1 of Form N379, which asks “What is your full name?”, remember that this question is directed at the judgment creditor. Sometimes, practitioners or applicants’ employees mistakenly enter their own name and, where this happens, the CCMCC has to return the application.
2. Use section 8 in Form N379 to explain any discrepancies in your application. For example, sometimes the judgment debtor’s name is slightly different on the Land Registry documents submitted with the application (they may have a middle name that was unknown to the judgment creditor when the claim was issued, or some documents may be in their married name). It is best to address this type of discrepancy in section 8 of Form N379 (Further Information). If you don’t give an explanation, you risk the application being returned.
3. If you are a bulk customer, don’t forget to enclose a schedule identifying each of the cases included in a single batch of applications. This helps the CCMCC to track charging order work processed for bulk users. The CCMCC will keep a copy of the schedule in a central reference point and use it to assist with any queries on the location of a particular case or file.
4. Avoid the temptation to file duplicate applications and correspondence. Submitting a charging order application to the CCMCC by multiple methods can lead to work being duplicated and also increases turnaround times. The CCMCC therefore asks users to adopt just one method of transmission (for instance, email or post – not both). The benefits of filing by email include speed, reduced cost and the fact that you will receive an automated response, confirming receipt.
5. If you wish to file an individual charging order application or related items by email, stick to the dedicated email address. Emailing individual applications, related correspondence and documents directly to CCMCCfirstname.lastname@example.org helps the CCMCC to process them more efficiently. Remember to comply with Practice Direction 5B and avoid copying your email to other CCMCC email addresses (such as those for general e-filing or customer enquiries), as this will generate multiple replies for you and slow down response times. (Note that bulk batches of charging order applications must be filed by post.)
6. When filing by email, use the correct subject heading, so that your email is efficiently filtered. When you use the dedicated email address to file a charging order application or related items, make sure that you complete the subject field with the case number, plus one of the eight headings set out below. This will assist the CCMCC to allocate your email to the appropriate inbox without delay. The headings to be used in the subject field are:
- New issue.
- General query.
- Administrative error.
- Objection to Order.
- Certificate of Service.
- Schedules of Costs.
7. Remember that applications will only be issued once the fee is received. I understand from the CCMCC that, in some cases, users submit a charging order application by email, and then file a further hard copy by post, enclosing a cheque for the fee. The CCMCC will only issue an application on receipt of the fee, so there is no point chasing for news of your application based on the date of the email. Since filing duplicate applications is discouraged (as mentioned above):
- If you wish to email applications to the CCMCC to accelerate receipt and processing, it is most efficient to complete and file a Help With Fees application (see further below), or use Fee Account. While it is possible to ask to be contacted to arrange payment by debit or credit card, this can involve multiple phone calls and, therefore, may not be so efficient.
- If you are applying for Help With Fees and wish to email your charging order application to the CCMCC, you have two choices. Firstly, you can apply for Help with Fees online, in advance of filing the charging order application, then add the Help With Fees reference to the charging order application before filing it by email. Alternatively, you can file a scanned hard copy of the Help With Fees application by email, together with the charging order application. If you choose the latter option, send both applications to CCMCCemail@example.com and use the “New Issue” subject heading.
- If you wish to pay an application fee by cheque, submit the application by post only, enclosing the cheque (made payable to HMCTS).
8. When filing schedules of costs or statements of the amount due for final charging orders, use the CCMCC’s pro forma schedules. Practitioners’ own schedules sometimes omit relevant information, which can either delay approval of the final charging order, or result in the applicant not receiving the expected amount of costs and disbursements. The CCMCC has therefore produced two pro forma schedules, one for individual charging order applicants, and one for bulk users. These contain all the information required by the court when considering whether to grant a final charging order. The pro forma schedules can be used as the “statement of amount due” required under CPR 73.7(2) and for any further/final statement of amount due, where payments are subsequently made in respect of the judgment.
9. Be aware that interim charging orders are only referred for final order approval after the 49-day timeframe has expired. The interim charging order currently provides:
“Unless the judgment debtor or any other person files and serves their objection to the continuation of the charge in writing, within 28 days of the date of service of the order, the application will be considered by a District Judge no later than [49 days from the date of the order]. The District Judge will consider, without a hearing, whether the charge created by this order should be made final (with or without modification) or should be discharged.”
Despite the wording of the order, the actual position is that the interim charging order will only be referred for final approval after the 49-day timeframe (comprising a 21-day period for service of the interim order and a 28-day period for objections/responses) has elapsed.
10. If you need to chase for news on a final charging order, don’t chase too early. I understand that the CCMCC would welcome a reduction in chasing enquiries asking about the issue of final charging orders, as the time spent processing these is a distraction from progressing substantive applications. However, if you do need to chase, the CCMCC suggests that you check first that you have taken into account the CCMCC’s current targets for issuing final charging orders. This can be done by visiting https://www.gov.uk/guidance/hmcts-civil-business-centres-performance-information. The CCMCC presently receives a high volume of chasing enquiries around day 49 of the timeframe referred to in tip 9 above. Chasing letters are often premature and may generate unnecessary additional work or cause confusion, as they frequently cross in the post with the final charging order, and can lead to duplicate orders being issued.
Attachment of earnings: a few pointers
The CCMCC has identified some issues that it often encounters when processing requests for attachment of earnings and responses to such requests. Avoid making extra work for yourself and the CCMCC (and processing delays) by making sure that you don’t slip up on these points.
1. When requesting an attachment of earnings order, make sure that Form N337 includes the debtor’s full details, including postcode. If the debtor’s postcode is omitted, Form N337 has to be returned for this information to be added.
2. Where the outstanding debt is greater than the judgment sum, use section 7 to explain why. If the figure entered in section 5 of Form N337 for the “balance due at date of request” exceeds the original judgment amount, due to the addition of further court fees, warrant/execution fees and/or interest, explain the difference by providing a breakdown in section 7 of Form N337 (you can use a separate sheet, if necessary). Where interest is included, explain whether it is statutory or contractual and show how it is calculated. Providing this information “up front” avoids the CCMCC having to seek an explanation, which can delay your application.
3. Remember to sign Form N337 at the end of section 7. If the form is not signed, it will be returned.
4. When filing by email, use the dedicated email address and correct subject heading. The CCMCC’s dedicated email address for attachment of earnings applications and related items is CCMCCfirstname.lastname@example.org. In the subject field, enter the case number, the number of requests you are sending (bulk users only), plus one of the six headings set out below. This will assist the CCMCC to allocate your email to the appropriate inbox without delay. The headings to be used in the subject field are as follows:
- New issue.
- General query.
- Administrative error.
- Reissue of N446.
- Claimant withdraws.
5. If judgment debtors do not include their employer’s postcode when replying to a request for attachment of earnings on Form N56, it may delay processing of their response. If Form N56 is completed and sent to the CCMCC, but the employer’s postcode is missing from section 3, the form will be returned to the judgment debtor. This may lead to confusion and delay efficient resolution of the matter, since the judgment debtor is required to reply to the notice of application for attachment of earnings within eight days of service, and that period may have elapsed before Form N56 has been corrected and re-filed. If so, by the time that the CCMCC receives the compliant Form N56, the case will already have been transferred out to a local county court hearing centre for bailiff service of an order requiring the debtor to complete Form N56.
Help with fees: help smooth the process
The number of Help With Fees applications being processed by the CCMCC has increased very significantly as court fees have risen. Following these tips will help make sure that your Help With Fees application is dealt with as promptly and efficiently as possible:
1. Apply online wherever possible via https://www.gov.uk/get-help-with-court-fees. You can apply using the Help With Fees online system, or complete a paper application on Form EX160. However, the CCMCC encourages applicants to use the online system, whenever it is available, to reduce paperwork. All new money claims must be filed via post and either (a) be accompanied by the fee payment, (b) be accompanied by Form EX160, or (c) you must enter the unique online Help With Fees reference number in the box provided on the claim form. All other forms of process can be filed by email, provided you comply with the guidelines for email submission, including using the appropriate inbox. If an application submitted by email is supported by a Help With Fees application, you must either enter the unique online reference number in the appropriate box on the application notice, or the application must be accompanied by a PDF copy of the paper Form EX160. A Help With Fees application being submitted by email must accompany the relevant application and be sent to the appropriate inbox for that application (for example, Attachments or Charging Orders).
2. Try to apply prospectively, rather than retrospectively. It is helpful if practitioners raise the issue of Help With Fees with clients before proceedings are issued, so that an application can be made prospectively, rather than making a retrospective application, which (if successful) results in the CCMCC having to process a refund of the court fee.
3. Before the Help With Fees application is submitted, check that it is complete and that your client has read it in full, and make them aware that supporting evidence may be requested. Encourage clients to read the Help With Fees guidance on the gov.uk website (https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/apply-for-help-with-court-and-tribunal-fees). If you or they are unsure whether they qualify, use the Help With Fees calculator to check eligibility before sending any application to the court. Applicants should be aware that they may be required to produce evidence of their declared income at a later stage.
4. When corresponding by email regarding Help With Fees, use the dedicated email address and correct subject heading. The CCMCC’s dedicated email address for correspondence about Help With Fees applications is CCMCCemail@example.com. In the subject field, enter one of the four headings set out below, plus the other specified items. This will assist the CCMCC to allocate your email to the appropriate inbox without delay. The headings to be used in the subject field are as follows:
- Refund request (retrospectively) – quoting the case number.
- Query – quoting the case number and Help With Fees reference or Return Letter reference.
- Complaint – quoting the case number and Help With Fees reference.
- Evidence return – quoting the Help With Fees reference.
The dedicated Help With Fees email inbox should not be used to submit, or enquire about, any other forms of process.
5. Where evidence is required, respond promptly. If the CCMCC contacts you to request evidence to support a Help With Fees application, supplying the information promptly will avoid your application being held up. If the application was not made online, remember to return a copy of your client’s paper Form EX160 together with the evidence. You can only supply the evidence and Form EX160 via post or via the dedicated Help With Fees inbox if this refers to a retrospective refund request.
Hopefully you will find the above information useful when dealing with cases and applications in the CCMCC.
For more information, see the first blog post on this subject, from 31 October 2016, Sailing through the CCMCC: Hints and tips for practitioners.