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Changing a court order for debt

This advice applies to Wales

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, either in instalments or in full by a certain date.

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’ll have to give details of your financial situation when you make the application.

How to apply to change a court order

How you apply to get a court order changed depends on how much you can now afford to pay to clear your debts.

If you can afford to pay something

If you have some money and can afford to pay the debt off in instalments, you need to fill in court form N245 to apply. This is called an application for an Instalment Order.

You'll have to fill in your financial details on the back of the form and say how much you can now afford to pay. Return the form to the court, with the fee for the application. You may not have to pay the fee or you might get it reduced if you're on a low income.

If your creditor agrees to the new offer, the court will make a new order setting out what you offered. There won't be a court hearing.

If your creditor doesn’t accept your offer, court staff will decide what you should pay, according to guidelines produced by the Court Service. They will then make an new order.

If you don’t agree with what the court staff decide, you can write to the court and ask them to reconsider the order. You must do this within 14 days of the date of the new order being made. You don’t have to pay a fee to ask the court to reconsider the order and you don’t have to use a special form.

If the claim wasn't issued in your local court, the hearing can be automatically transferred to a court nearest to you.

Your creditor could also apply to get the court order changed if they disagree with what the court staff decide. If they do this, the court will arrange a hearing at your local court to decide what’s fair.

You can download court forms from Her Majesty's Courts and Tribunals Service website at: www.hmcourts-service.gov.uk.

For more information about working out your finances and drawing up a financial statement, you can use our budgeting tool.

For more information about getting court fees reduced or waived, see Help with legal costs.

It can be difficult to get the court to change the order. You can get help to fill in the court forms and to work out what you can afford to pay 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.

If you can’t afford to pay anything at all

If you can’t afford to pay anything at all, you should apply to get the order changed using court form N244. This is a general application form. You'll need to explain on the form why you now can't afford to make the payments. You'll also need to send in a separate financial statement to show why this is the case. This is a statement showing how much money you have coming into your household, how much you spend and how much you have left over to pay back what you owe.

Put in as much detail as you can to explain your reasons and attach any evidence you have which explains your situation. For example, if you can't work because of illness and this means you don't have the money to pay the debt, try to include some medical evidence, such as a letter from your GP.

Return the form to the court, with the fee for the application. You may not have to pay the fee or get it reduced if you're on a low income.

If you can't afford to pay anything at all, your case will be referred to a judge, who will decide what to do at a hearing. It's better to ask for a hearing yourself, so that you have the chance to put your case to the court. There's space on form N244 for you to do this.

You can download court forms from Her Majesty's Courts and Tribunals Service website at: www.hmcourts-service.gov.uk.

For more information about working out your finances and drawing up a financial statement, you can use our online budgeting tool.

For more information about getting court fees reduced or waived, see Help with legal costs.

It can be difficult to get the court to change the terms of a court order. You can get help to fill in the court forms and to work out what you can afford to pay 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.

Getting 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 England and Wales, claims management companies have to 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: www.claimsregulation.gov.uk.

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

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