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 complied with. To start court enforcement action, the successful party should contact the Collections Unit at the local District Court (or, in smaller District Courts, they should contact the civil enforcement staff).
Because the enforcement relates to a private or civil matter, the successful party is responsible for making sure the court enforcement action moves forward. The successful party will need to:
- 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.
- Check what progress the court has made, for example, check that court orders have successfully been served on the other person.
Note: In any discussion with court staff, you will need to quote the Disputes Tribunal (DT) reference number.
What does court enforcement cost?
You don’t have to pay a filing fee when you apply to the District Court for it to enforce a Disputes Tribunal order. This is an exception, as you do have to pay a fee for other enforcement action in the District Court. The fee you’d usually be charged is added to the amount the other person owes and the court recovers the fee from them along with the debt.
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?
Yes. The court can only enforce a judgment or order within six years of the judgment or order being made, unless the liable party has made some payment into the court within the previous 12 months or the court gives leave for action to be taken outside this time frame.
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 (formerly called an “order for examination”), or
- a warrant to seize property (formerly 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 a debtor’s financial situation and whether they’re able to pay the debt. The court can order the debt to be paid off by instalments or make another kind of enforcement order. (An order to attend a financial assessment hearing was formerly called an “order for examination”.)
If the other party is found to be capable of paying the debt, the court official can:
- arrange for the debt to be paid back in instalments, or
- order enforcement action to be taken, for example, by:
- ordering that assets belonging to the party will be sold to meet the debt (see “Warrants to seize property” below), or
- ordering that deductions will be made from a person’s wages, salary, benefit or ACC payments (this is known as an “attachment order”).
Warrants to seize property
You can apply to the District Court for it to issue a warrant authorising a court bailiff or collections officer to visit the other party to demand payment. If they don’t pay in full immediately, the bailiff or collections officer can seize their personal possessions (except necessary tools of trade up to $5,000 and necessary household furniture and effects, including clothing, up to $10,000). The goods can then be sold to pay off the debt. (A warrant to seize property was formerly called a “distress warrant”.)
The bailiff or collections officer can only take things that are owned by the unsuccessful party and it is up to the successful party to clearly identify those things. For example, if the successful party identifies a car registered in the debtor’s name, they should first check the Personal Property Securities Register to see if a finance company has a security interest in the car because money is still owed on it.