Belfast Telegraph

Concerns raised over country court judgments against consumers unaware of debts

Thousands of people are having their finances destroyed by county court judgments for debts they know nothing about, according to reports.

Banks, water companies and private parking firms obtain hundreds of thousands of court orders each year to settle outstanding debts.

Around 740,000 cases last year were signed off without being defended or heard by a judge in open court, according to figures obtained by the Daily Mail.

Around 85% of county court orders were obtained "by default", the information released by the Ministry of Justice under the Freedom of Information Act, reportedly found.

Many people apparently did not even know they were the subject of any judgment because correspondence was sent to outdated addresses.

Some only discovered that they had a judgment against them years later.

County court judgments have a negative impact on a person's credit rating, which can make it harder to obtain mortgages or business loans.

People can apply to have the orders overturned but to do so can reportedly take up to a year and cost at least £225.

Families who have spoken to the Mail include newly-weds who lost their dream house because a Severn Trent Water bill was sent to the groom's old university address and a jeweller who has been forced to sell his home and shop because a mistaken parking ticket cost him £30,000.

The Ministry of Justice has apparently launched an investigation after the figures were published.

Courts Minister Sir Oliver Heald told the Mail: "These are serious claims which will be looked at urgently. Our legal system is world-leading and we are determined to ensure that it is not open to abuse."

Bob Neill, Tory MP and chairman of the Commons Justice Committee, said the findings should be investigated as part of the Ministry of Justice's civil courts structure review, an ongoing probe by senior judges into potential court reforms.

He told the paper: "People should always know if court proceedings are being taken against them and have the chance to defend claims."

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