How a creditor can get information about your finances
If you're in debt, and have fallen behind with your repayments your creditor may have taken court action against you and got a county court judgment (CCJ).
A CCJ is an order from the court to pay back what you owe. If you haven't kept to the terms of the order, your creditors can take further action to try and get their money back. This is called enforcement action.
There are several different types of enforcement action your creditors might be able to take. What they decide to do will depend on how much money you’ve got to pay back your debts. Sometimes a creditor will want to find out more about your financial situation before deciding what enforcement action to take.
To get the information they need, your creditors can apply for a court order to make you go back to court. You can be forced to bring in documents and answer questions under oath about your financial situation. This is called an order to obtain information.
For example, your creditors might want to know details about any property you own and how much it is worth, or whether you are expecting to get some more money, such as an insurance policy pay out or a promotion at work.
Knowing this information can help them decide what kind of enforcement action they can take. For example, they might ask the court to take money out of your wages, or directly from your bank account.
If you are issued with a court order to obtain information, it's very important that you go to the hearing and answer the questions you are asked. If you don't turn up and don't have a good reason why, or you don't answer the questions, you can be sent to prison.
This page tells you more about orders to obtain information, including what you need to do to prepare for the hearing, what happens at the hearing and what to do if you can't go.
To find out more about what happens when a creditor takes money out of your wages or directly from your bank account, see Creditor takes money from your wages and Creditor takes money from your bank account.
For more information about CCJs, see Creditor takes you to court for debt.
An order to obtain information is an order to go back to court and be questioned under oath or affirmation about your financial circumstances.
It is something your creditors can ask for if they've already got a county court judgment (CCJ) against you and you aren't sticking to it. The court can ask about things like:
- your income and outgoings
- your job
- your home
- any other property you own.
Your creditor will need to apply to court to make this order.
The order to obtain information will tell you to attend court on a certain date. You’ll have at least 14 days notice of the hearing.
The order to obtain information will contain a penal notice. This is a warning that if you don’t go to the hearing, you can be sent to prison for disobeying the court order (contempt of court). It is very important that you do go to the hearing or tell the court if you can't.
The order will also give a list of documents that you must bring to the hearing.
If you can’t attend the court hearing to obtain information, contact your creditor and ask them to agree to a new date.
If you can’t get the creditor to agree a new date, you can apply to the court for a change of date. Apply on court form N244. You can download the court form from the Ministry of Justice website at: www.justice.gov.uk.
You’ll have to explain on the form why it’s not possible for you to attend on the original date. You have to pay a fee for this application, but it might be waived or reduced if you’re on a low income.
Be sure to make the application rather than not turning up at court. You could be sent to prison if you fail to turn up.
There are things that you can do to try and make sure you don't miss the court date. For example, if the hearing is due to heard at a court outside your area, you can ask for it to be moved to your local court so you don't have to travel so far.
If you have very little money, you can also ask your creditor to pay your travel expenses to and from the court. You must do this within seven days of being ordered to attend the hearing.
To find out more about how to ask for court fees to be waived, see Help with legal costs.
Before you go to court, you’ll need to prepare a full financial statement. This is so that your creditor can see whether you can afford to pay back the debt and how much. The financial statement shows in detail:
- how much money you have coming in
- whether you have any assets, such as a house or savings
- what you need to spend on everyday living
- how much you need to support other people in your family
- how much you have left to pay your debts.
The financial statement also allows the creditor to find out whether you have any equity in your home. Equity is the amount of money you'd make if you sold your home after any mortgage or secured loans are paid off. If you do have equity, the creditor may think about applying to court for a charging order against your property, as a way of getting their money back.
A charging order means that if you sell your property, you must pay your creditor back what you owe them out of the proceeds. In some cases, a creditor can force you to sell your property so they can get their money back.
For more information about what happens when a creditor applies for a charging order against your property, see Charging orders.
You can also use our budgeting tool.
Before attending the court you'll also need to collect evidence of your financial situation. You'll need all your financial paperwork, such as:
- bank statements
- credit agreements
- rent books
- proof of any other debts
- proof of other court orders.
The list of the exact documents you'll need to bring comes with the court form telling you to attend court. It's a good idea to write down reasons if you're missing any paperwork so that you can explain why to the court.
At the hearing to obtain information, a court official will usually ask you questions. The creditor might not be there. In exceptional circumstances, a judge will be in charge of the hearing and then the creditor must ask the questions. The process is more than just a fact-finding mission and although they are not supposed to be intimidating, the questions can be very searching.
There’s a standard list of questions that you may be asked but, in some circumstances, the creditor may have asked for permission to add in extra questions. You can download a copy of court form EX140 showing the questions you can be asked, from the Ministry of Justice website at: www.justice.gov.uk.
For more information about the questions your creditor can ask you at a court hearing to obtain information, you should get advice from an experienced adviser, for example, at a Citizens Advice Bureau. To search for your nearest CAB, including those that can give advice by e-mail, click on nearest CAB.
You must answer the questions on oath or affirmation. This means you have to swear that what you're saying is true.
After the questioning, you’ll be asked to sign a written record of the information you’ve provided. You should check closely before you sign the record, in case any mistakes have been made.
You’ll usually have to pay your creditor's expenses for making an application for an order to obtain information and for the hearing. These will be added to the amount you already owe your creditor.
If you haven’t already made an offer to pay back your creditor what you owe, you can do this at the hearing. If the creditor accepts your offer, the court may make an order setting out the agreed payments.
For more information about working out how much to offer creditors, see How to deal with your creditors.
It may be obvious from the questioning that you can’t pay back the debt. For example, your financial statement may show you have no money left over after paying essential household expenses.
If you can show you have no money left over, you should argue that it would be unreasonable of the creditor to take further court action against you.
A court official will refer the case to the judge if you:
- don’t attend the hearing
- refuse to answer the questions
- refuse to take the oath or affirmation.
After checking what happened, the judge can make an order for you to be sent to prison.
This order will usually be postponed (suspended) on condition that you go to a new hearing. If you fail again to attend the hearing or continue to refuse to answer questions, the court will issue a warrant of arrest. This means a bailiff will arrest you and bring you to the judge. If you still refuse to answer questions, the judge can order you to be sent to prison for up to 28 days. If imprisonment is ordered, this does not write off the debt.
Once the creditor has got all your financial details, they can decide what further action to take against you. If you've got no way of paying, they may not take any further action against you.
However, if you have money to pay off your debts, or assets, such as home that could be sold, they can choose to take a number of options to recover their money. This is called enforcement action.
Your creditor will need another court order to take enforcement action. They may be able to get an order to:
- send bailiffs to your home to take your things away
- have money taken from your wages to pay the debt. This is called an attachment of earnings order
- take money that you are owed by someone else from your bank account. This is called a third party debt order
- secure the debt against your home or other property you own. This is called a charging order and means that you could lose your home if you don't keep up the repayments.
For more information about the enforcement action your creditor could take to get their money back, see Action your creditor can take.