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Graphic designer owed thousands by businessman despite county court judgement

PUBLISHED: 10:34 14 July 2018 | UPDATED: 07:46 16 July 2018

A screenshot of the Dispatch magazine website. Photo: Archant

A screenshot of the Dispatch magazine website. Photo: Archant

Archant

As debts rise, a record number of people are taking out court judgements to try to get their money back. But what happens when the court orders are not satisfied? Luke Powell reports.

Nick Chudasama won a legal case after his building extension went wrong but two years later is still waiting for the money. PHOTO: Nick ButcherNick Chudasama won a legal case after his building extension went wrong but two years later is still waiting for the money. PHOTO: Nick Butcher

Jake Evans has spent more than a year chasing a Norfolk businessman for the thousands of pounds he is owed.

But despite securing a county court judgement (CCJ) last year against the former company owner, he is yet to receive the full amount.

The 26-year-old graphic designer, from Norwich, is not alone in his struggle to receive what a court has judged to be his.

Thorpe St Andrew businessman Nick Chudasama took builder John Miller and his business HLD Construction Limited to court in January 2016 claiming he was owed £14,000, with legal costs, for a house extension which went wrong.

The 61-year-old won the case, but more than two years on he said and he has only received £1,200 back.

“We agreed a payment plan but the payments received thus far barely cover legal costs,” he said.

And even with a county court judgement in his favour, it could take years to recover the money in full.

Building work at Mr Chudasama's home in Thorpe St Andrew. Photo: SubmittedBuilding work at Mr Chudasama's home in Thorpe St Andrew. Photo: Submitted

Both cases have led to questions about the effectiveness of civil court rulings and how they are enforced.

A record number of people are resorting to CCJs to get their money back.

But just 15pc of the more than 300,000 CCJs registered in the first four months of this year have been satisfied.

“The process has been exceedingly slow, time consuming and costly,” Mr Evans said.

“At the moment it feels as though it is not protecting the victim, but instead protecting the other party.”

Mr Evans, who owns Jok Design, claims he is owed £2,457 by Jonathan Horswell, who was trading as Dispatch Magazine at the time.

Between May 2016 and May 2017, he helped design the magazine, but claims he was not paid from December 2016 onwards.

Building work at Mr Chudasama's home in Thorpe St Andrew. Photo: SubmittedBuilding work at Mr Chudasama's home in Thorpe St Andrew. Photo: Submitted

As a result, Mr Evans took Mr Horswell to the small claims court in May last year.

“The money owed was a lot for me and this process seemed to be the best option for me to use,” he said.

“It then slowly proceeded to mediation at which I agreed to lesser amount than what I was owed and an agreement was made for monthly payments.”

Court documents show Mr Horswell agreed to pay Mr Evans £3,057 over several months following a mediation settlement on July 31 last year.

But Mr Evans claims he only received £700, resulting in him taking out a CCJ against Mr Horswell.

He said bailiffs had been involved, but claims he was advised by them to go through the High Court.

“Chasing this is like having another job, because it takes hours and hours of your time,” Mr Evans said.

A record number of county court judgements (CCJs) were given last year. Photo: Dominic Lipinski/PA WireA record number of county court judgements (CCJs) were given last year. Photo: Dominic Lipinski/PA Wire

“I have kind of given up on the claim now to be honest.”

Documents show that Mr Horswell attempted to get the judgement set aside, but did not appear at the court hearing in Norwich on March 29.

As a result, a district judge dismissed his application.

When asked for his version of events, Mr Horswell said: “This should be dealt with in court through the proper channels, rather than through the EDP.”

In September 2017, the 53-year-old from Lomond Road, Attleborough, received a suspended prison sentence at Norwich Crown Court for cheating the public revenue.

Mr Chudasama, from Thorpe St Andrew, has been left in a similar situation as Mr Evans, despite going through the courts.

He did not receive any payment until this newspaper published his story in February 2017.

Although builder Mr Miller agreed to sign a repayment plan, he is currently behind on his monthly deposits.

“When you get the county court judgement, you think ‘yes’, but it doesn’t mean you’ll get your money back straight away,” he said.

“All I am trying to do now is to minimise the loss.

“From my experience, if peaceful entry is not obtained into the dwelling, then there seems to be little that anyone can do.

“It is hugely disappointing on the part of the innocent party.”

Mr Miller admitted he was around £200 behind in his payments to Mr Chudasama, claiming he had been facing difficulties.

But he was adamant he would pay back the full amount.

“I made the commitment,” he said. “As much as it pains me.”

The Ministry of Justice (MoJ) said courts cannot guarantee to obtain the payment of a judgement.

But a spokesman said there were various enforcement options available to claimants, including bailiffs.

Additionally, it said county court judgements adversely affect a defendant’s credit rating and stay on the register for up to six years.

Judgements at record high

More and more people are turning to county court judgements (CCJs) when they are owed money.

They can be used by anyone to settle a debt by getting a judge to order a person or business to pay the money back.

In the latest CCJs, published in this newspaper’s business supplement each week, CCJ’s have been taken out by people against Norfolk Constabulary, Aviva, a farm shop and carpentry firm.

If they are paid off they become cancelled or satisfied.

A record 1,138,058 CCJs were registered in 2017 in England and Wales, up 22pc on 2016. The average value of a CCJ is £1,493.

In East England there were more than 95,000 worth £147.3m

During the first half of 2018 14.54 percent of judgments were satisfied.

An MoJ spokesman said: “Despite the various enforcement options open to claimants, the court cannot guarantee to obtain the payment of a judgment or order where an individual goes to great lengths to evade payment or simply does not have the means to pay.”

Advice for those owed money

The Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB) said there are several ways people can recover money owed to them.

But it warned that it can cost the creditor money.

In regard to smaller claims, a CAB spokesman said it is not always worth taking it to a High Court.

Instead, they can file to bankrupt the other party, which would see their assets taken and sold.

Alternatively, a charging order can be made through the court, which secures debt against the debtor’s property.

When that property is sold, the debt would be paid.

Another option is to apply for an order to obtain information about the person’s assets.

The individual who owes money would be required to bring in documents to court and answer questions under oath about their financial situation.

If the creditor knows the debtor’s bank account details, a Garnishee order can also be given which freezes that person’s bank account.

• To read more of our investigations visit: www.facebook.com/archantinvestigationsunit

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