From mid April, the District Court introduced a range of reforms designed to make civil debt enforcement quicker, cheaper, and easier for creditors.

As many creditors know, winning in court does not automatically lead to payment. Usually you must take further steps to enforce the court order or judgment – and ensure that your money ultimately winds up in your bank account where it belongs.

Now there are new ways in which a debtor’s means can be assessed.

The creditor can either file a financial statement on behalf of the debtor (if the details are known), or ask the court (for a small fee) to get the debtor’s financial details from the debtor.. The court would then generally call the debtor to discuss the debtor’s means.

Alternatively, the creditor can apply for a Financial Assessment Hearing. At this hearing the debtor would be asked about their income and expenses and ability to pay. This hearing can proceed without the creditor being present. If the debtor does not front up to court, a warrant for arrest can be issued.

It is also now a lot easier to obtain an “Attachment Order”. This is a court order requiring a proportion of the debtor’s weekly wage or benefit to be paid directly to the creditor.

Previously, attachment orders could only be made following an “Order for Examination” (a court hearing where the debtor had to address their ability to pay).

Now, if the debtor and creditor agree, Attachment Orders can be made at hearings in the District Court, Tenancy Tribunal, Disputes Tribunal or at mediations. There is no need to apply for a separate Financial Assessment Hearing or Order for Examination. Provided the debtor and creditor agree, and a small filing fee is paid, the Attachment Order can be filed immediately.

If the debtor and creditor cannot agree, either can apply for an Attachment Order for a small filing fee. The application will need to be served on the debtor’s last known address, to someone who appears over 14 years of age. This will come as good news to creditors who may have previously faced an elusive debtor who attempted to stall payment by avoiding service.

Attachment Orders will also be easier to change. Either a creditor or debtor can apply to change an Attachment Order by filling out a form and providing reasons for the proposed change. This is free to do. The Deputy Registrar will then decide whether to make any changes to the Attachment Order.

Even if an Attachment Order is in place, nothing stops the creditor from pursuing other enforcement mechanisms.