Enforcing Disputes Tribunal Orders
Enforcing the order through the District Court
How can the District Court enforce an order?
The District Court does not automatically check to see that Tribunal orders have been followed. To enforce the order through the District Court, you should contact the Collections Unit at the local District Court (or, in smaller District Courts, contact the civil enforcement staff).
If you are the successful party, you are responsible for making sure the court enforcement action moves forward. You’ll need to:
- Give the court the other side’s contact details, including their work and home address, phone numbers, and/or email addresses. The more information you can provide here, the better.
- Give the court information about where the other party can be served with court documents. If you are asking the court to seize the other party’s property, you must also give them information about that property.
- Apply for each step of the enforcement procedure: for example, you’ll have to apply for the financial assessment hearing and pay the filing fee, and then apply for a wage attachment order and pay the filing fee after that.
Note: When speaking with court staff, you will need to quote the Disputes Tribunal (DT) reference number.
Does it cost to apply for a court enforcement?
You’ll have to pay a filing fee when you apply, but the other side will have to pay this back to you, in addition to any money they owe you according to the Disputes Tribunal order.
For a breakdown of filing fees, go to www.justice.govt.nz and search “civil enforcement fees”.
If you use a lawyer to get the courts to enforce the Tribunal’s order, you’ll have to pay the lawyer’s fees yourself.
Is there a time limit for taking court enforcement action?
The court can only enforce a judgment or order within six years of the judgment or order being made.
However, if the other party owes you money, and has paid you any amount of that money the last 12 months, you can still get the court to enforce the order even if it’s been more than six years.
In very limited circumstances, the court might allow longer timeframes.
How can a Tribunal order be enforced by the court?
The main options for enforcing the Tribunal decision through the court are:
- a financial assessment hearing (this used to be called an “order for examination”), or
- a warrant to seize property (this used to be called a “distress warrant”).
Financial assessment hearings
You can apply to the court for it to hold a financial assessment hearing. This is often used as a first step to establish the other side’s financial situation and whether they’re able to pay the debt.
After a financial assessment hearing, the court can:
- order the debt to be paid off by instalments
- order that the other side’s wages, salary, benefit, or ACC payments will be deducted to pay back the debt (this is called an “attachment order”). The money will come directly to you from their employer, MSD, or ACC
- order that property belonging to the other side will be sold to meet the debt (see below).
Warrants to seize property
If the other side has not paid money that they owe to you, you can apply to the District Court for it to issue a warrant authorising a court bailiff or collections officer to visit them at home and demand payment.
If they don’t pay in full immediately, the bailiff or collections officer can take some of their personal possessions to sell and pay off the debt. There are some exceptions to the types of things that can be taken (including necessary household furniture, clothing, or tools they need for their job – go to justice.govt.nz and search “seize the debtor’s property” for more information).
The bailiff or collections officer can only take things that are owned by the individual, and it is up to you to clearly identify those things. For example, if you think a car is registered in the debtor’s name, you should check the Personal Property Securities Register to see if a finance company has a security interest in the car – this would mean the car isn’t fully “owned” by the individual.
If someone is taking civil enforcement action against you
If someone is taking enforcement action against you, you should get advice from your local Community Law Centre. They can help with things like preparing for a financial assessment hearing and the court process.