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Changing a court order for debt

This advice applies to Northern Ireland

About getting a court order changed

If your creditor has taken court action against you for a debt, they may have got a county court judgment (CCJ) or other court order against you. The court order means that you have to pay back the money you owe to your creditor.  

You should contact your creditor to arrange to repay the money you owe in full or in instalments. If you do not come to an arrangement normally within two weeks your creditor can take action against you by applying to the Enforcement of Judgments Office (EJO).  

Once you've got a court order, it's really important to keep to the terms of the order. However, it's possible that your financial circumstances could change and you can no longer afford to keep to the terms of the court order. This could happen if you lose your job or fall ill, for example.

If your circumstances change, it's always best to try and get the court order changed rather than falling behind with payments. If you do nothing, your creditor can take more serious action, and depending on the kind of debts you've got, you could end up losing your home or having your possessions taken away.

This page tells you what you need to think about if you want to apply to get a court order changed, and how the process works when you've made your application.

When can you ask to change the court order

If you can't afford to keep up the payments ordered by the court you can ask to change the terms of the order to fit in with what you can afford to pay. This is called an application to vary the order.

Depending on your financial situation, you could apply to the court to pay off the debt in smaller instalments. Or you could say you can no longer afford to pay anything at all. For example, if you have lost your job and money is being taken from your wages to repay the debt, you could ask the court to change the type of order you've got.

You will have to give details of your financial situation when you make the application.

How to apply to get a court order set aside

If you don't agree you owe the money or you think there's been a mistake in the way the case has been handled, you could try to get the court order set aside.

You can't ask for an order to be set aside if you agreed you owe the money.

If you manage to get the order set aside, this doesn't wipe out the debt. You will still have to repay what you owe and your creditor can still go back to court to chase you for payment. But they may have to start the process all over again and this would give you more time to sort out your finances and pay back the money.

It's very difficult to get a court order set aside and you've got to have a very good reason for asking for this to happen. The judge will decide whether you have a good case. Possible reasons for getting the order set aside include:

  • a mistake in the original judgment
  • the court did not follow the court rules during the claim process
  • the creditor did not follow the court rules during the claim process
  • you have a defence to the claim which you were not able to make known earlier
  • you weren't able to attend a hearing and a judgment was made in your absence.

The judge will decide what’s a good reason for missing a hearing. A sudden illness, accident or other unforeseen circumstances usually counts as a good reason. Or you may have not received the claim forms because they were either sent to the wrong address or lost in the post.

If you missed a hearing, the judge will also decide whether your case had a good chance of success, by looking at your arguments and the evidence. You need to make another application to the court as quickly as you can, usually within seven days of missing the hearing.

It can be very difficult to get a court order set aside. You can get help to look at whether you have a good case to ask for a court order to be set aside 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.

Using a claims management firm

Claims management companies, also known as claims assessors, are firms that charge you a fee to help you check whether your credit agreement is correct. They sometimes claim to be able to help you challenge whether a credit agreement is legal in court, even when you don't have a good reason to dispute the debt. They also claim to be able to help you set aside a court order.

You don't need to pay someone to get this kind of help and you should only go to court as a last resort.

In Northern Ireland there is no statutory regulation of claims management companies.  If you are using a claims management firm based in Northren Ireland you should check if they are a member of the Law Society of Northern Ireland. If you are using a company based in England or Wales, they must be authorised by the Ministry of Justice. You can check whether a claims management company is authorised by searching on the Claims Regulation website. Go to:

You can get help to set aside a court order from an experienced adviser at a Citizens Advice Bureau or a solicitor. To search for your nearest CAB, including those that can give advice by e-mail, click on nearest CAB.

Further help

On Adviceguide

  • Creditor takes you to court for debt
  • Creditor takes money from your wages
  • Creditor takes money from your bank account
  • Charging orders
  • How a creditor can get information about your finances
  • Budgeting
  • Help with debt
  • Help with legal costs
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