Making a small claim
This fact sheet covers England & Wales. You will need different advice if you live in Scotland.
This fact sheet will help you to make a small claim to recover money that is owed to you by a person or business in England or Wales. A small claim is a money claim for under £10,000, as long as the claim is not considered to be a complex case. This fact sheet includes information on making a claim using the new online service on GOV.UK, and also making a claim by post. We will use the term ‘debtor’ in this fact sheet to refer to the person or business that owes you money.
Use this fact sheet to:
- help you decide if you should take court action;
- understand how to make county court claims;
- see how the court will handle your money claim; and
- find out how to enforce a county court judgment (CCJ).
The information given in this fact sheet applies if the debt you are collecting is not regulated by the Consumer Credit Act 1974. The Consumer Credit Act usually applies to credit debts such as bank loans, credit cards, store cards and catalogues. It does not usually apply to business debts owed by your customers. The rules about how to make a claim for a debt that is regulated by the Consumer Credit Act are different. If you are unsure whether the Consumer Credit Act applies, contact us for advice.
High Court claims
In some situations, if a money claim is for more than £100,000, it can be started in the High Court.
Before issuing a claim
Are there alternatives to taking court action?
Before issuing a claim, try to come to an arrangement with the debtor. This may involve considering offers of payment that the debtor is able to make based on their income and outgoings.
Alternatively, you could consider a mediation scheme. Mediation involves appointing a mediator, who is usually a specially trained person, to look into the case. As part of the process, you and the debtor agree to accept the mediator’s findings.
Options like mediation are often called ‘alternative dispute resolution’ (ADR) schemes. Court rules require you to think carefully about whether an ADR scheme is a better way to reach an agreement than going to court. If you refuse to consider an ADR scheme, you may not get back the court costs you have paid, even if you win the case. The court may also order you to pay the debtor’s costs. If your claim is for £10,000 or less, you can use the Small Claims Mediation Service. This is run by HM Courts and Tribunals Service free of charge. If you make a claim using the new online service, both you and the debtor will automatically be offered free telephone-based mediation.
If your claim is for more than £10,000, you will need to find a mediation provider yourself. See civilmediation.org. There will be fees to pay to use these services.
If you get notice that the debtor is in a moratorium
You could get a notice informing you that a company owing you money has entered into a moratorium. A moratorium is a formal breathing space which gives a company some protections against court action. The moratorium is only temporary and the purpose of it is to give the company time to put a rescue plan into place. If you have received notice of a debtor being in a moratorium, contact us for advice on whether you can start court action while the moratorium is in place.
Since 4 May 2021, individuals in problem debt can apply for breathing space to get some protection from their creditors. This is to give them time to get debt advice and to find a solution for their debt problems.
If your customer applies for breathing space, you will be notified of this by the Insolvency Service. This could be by email, post or by a copy of the notification being left at your address. The notice will tell you what debt has been included in the breathing space and when the breathing space started.
If you are notified that the person who owes you money has entered breathing space under the Debt Respite Scheme, it means there are certain rules you need to follow. The breathing space will last for 60 days as long as the person remains eligible.
During the breathing space you cannot:
- add interest to debts included in breathing space;
- require the debtor to pay fees, penalties or charges for debts included in breathing space;
- take most kinds of enforcement action to collect debts included in breathing space; or
- instruct an agent to take any of these actions. You can find more information in our Breathing Space fact sheet and the Debt Respite Scheme (Breathing Space) guidance for creditors.
If you have already started a court claim, served a bankruptcy petition, or have any other court or tribunal proceedings pending in respect of a breathing space debt, you need to inform the court in writing that the debtor is in a breathing space, and later inform the court when the breathing space has ended.
If the debtor replied to your court claim admitting liability for a debt in breathing space either before or during a breathing space, you will still be able to ask the court to enter judgment.
If you have previously obtained a charging order or an attachment of earnings order to enforce payment of a debt which is included in a breathing space before the breathing space started, it will not be affected by the breathing space.
If the debtor is defending a claim, you should still complete any forms and comply with any requests that the court makes.
End of a breathing space
After a breathing space has come to an end you cannot require the debtor to pay interest, fees, penalties or charges on a breathing space debt that accrued during the breathing space, or treat their non-payment as a breach of the agreement you have with the debtor.
Requesting a review of a breathing space
You can request that a debt adviser reviews a breathing space if you think that one of the following reasons applies.
- The breathing space means you are being treated unfairly.
- The debtor does not meet the qualifying criteria for breathing space.
- Any of the debts included in the breathing space do not qualify.
- The debtor has enough money to repay their debts.
There are time limits for requesting a review. You must make the request either:
- within 20 days of the breathing space starting, based on the start date in the notification you received; or
- within 20 days of an additional debt being added to the breathing space, based on the date when you received or were thought to have received the notification.
To request a review, you need to give the debt adviser a written statement with the reasons you want a review and any supporting evidence you can provide.
The debt adviser must cancel the breathing space in respect of all or some of the debts if they agree with you, unless the debt adviser thinks cancelling the breathing space is unfair or unreasonable due to the debtor’s personal circumstances.
You can find more information on requesting a review of a breathing space in the Debt Respite Scheme (Breathing Space) guidance for creditors.
Should I try to settle?
If you choose to go to court rather than use an ADR scheme, you should only issue a court claim as a last resort. The court will expect you and the debtor to have acted reasonably by exchanging information about the dispute to try to avoid the need for court action.
Send a letter to the debtor stating:
- how much they owe and how this has been calculated;
- what services or goods the debt relates to; and
- what attempts have been made to settle the matter (for example, invoices, reminder letters and so on).
Our Debt still outstanding after reminders sample letter can help with this. Keep a copy of the letter you send and any response you get. Bear in mind that if you still wish to make a court claim you will need to follow the pre-action protocol section below, and send a letter of claim first.
There are special rules in place for particular court processes called ‘pre-action protocols’. Some industries, such as construction and engineering, have their own special protocols. All protocols tell you what steps you should take before starting court action. For more information about the different protocols, go to www.justice.gov.uk and search for ‘pre-action protocols’.
If you are a business considering making a county court claim to recover money from an individual or sole trader, and a specific protocol does not apply to the type of claim you need to make, you will need to follow the pre-action protocol for debt claims.
Bear in mind that if you are an individual and you are considering making a court claim you will need to follow the practice direction - pre-action conduct.
Pre-action protocol for debt claims
The pre-action protocol for debt claims describes the way you and the debtor are expected to behave, and the actions you should take, before a court claim for debt payment is started.
The court expects people to do all they can to avoid court action. It expects both you and the debtor to give each other a reasonable amount of information, so that each side can understand the other's position. It also expects you to try to reach an agreement and to avoid court action if you can. See our Pre-action protocol in the County Court fact sheet for more information.
You can find more details and the steps you need to follow in the pre-action protocol for debt claims.
Letter of claim
Under the pre-action protocol for debt claims, before starting court action by sending the debtor a court claim you need to send them a letter of claim. Details of the information which needs to be included, and how it should be sent, can be found in section 3 of the protocol.
The letter of claim should also enclose the following.
The information sheet
This is a simple to follow guide which explains the debtor's rights, and gives them a step-by-step guide on what to do next. It can be found in annex 1 of the protocol
The reply form
The debtor needs to send this back to you within 30 days. They should use the reply form to tell you whether they owe the debt or not, to request more information or to let you know they are seeking advice. It can be found in annex 1 of the protocol.
A statement of means form
This is similar to a personal budget. If the debtor agrees that they owe you money they should complete the statement of means form to provide you with details of their circumstances, their income and expenditure, and any other debts they owe. It can be found in annex 2 of the protocol.
The letter of claim should also provide the debtor with information on the amount of money they owe, including an up-to- date breakdown of any interest and charges that have been added.
The debtor should reply to the letter of claim on the reply form within 30 days of the date at the top of the letter. If they do not reply in time you may start court action. You should bear in mind that if they posted their reply to you near the end of the 30 day period it might take slightly longer to reach you. Detailed information on how the debtor can respond, and what it means for you, can be found in section 4 of the protocol.
If the debtor sends you a partially completed reply form you should treat it as an attempt to deal with the matter, and you should try to discuss and resolve any issues with them before starting a court claim.
If the debtor responds to the letter of claim but you cannot come to an agreement with them, you should give them at least 14 days' notice that you intend to start a court claim. You should not start a court claim less than 30 days from receiving the reply form, or 30 days from providing any documents requested by the debtor, whichever is the later.
Will I be able to get my money back?
Before taking court action, consider the debtor’s circumstances. Think about the following questions. These questions should help you to decide whether court action is likely to be a sensible option.
- Does the debtor have the ability to pay the debt?
- Are you prepared to accept small instalments over a period of time? If so, can this be agreed without court action?
- Does the debtor have any assets?
It may be useful to check whether the debtor already has any outstanding county court judgments. You can do this for a small fee by using the Trust Online’s website www.trustonline.org.uk.
You may be able to get information about a limited company or limited liability partnership from Companies House at www.gov.uk/government/organisations/companies-house.
Will the claim be defended?
If there is a dispute and the debtor is likely to defend the claim, you may wish to seek legal advice about how likely you are to be successful. Business Debtline can help you to find legal advice that is right for you.
You will need to pay a fee to start your claim unless you are exempt. See Do I have to pay a court fee? at the end of this fact sheet. You can add the fee on to the amount the debtor owes you. For further information about these fees, contact us for advice. Alternatively, go to www.justice.gov.uk and search for ‘court fees’.
If you use a solicitor you can only claim certain fixed costs.
If your claim is defended, you may have to pay the debtor's legal costs if you lose the case.
Issuing a claim
Make sure you know the full name and address of the debtor. Find out whether they are an individual, a partnership or a limited company. If you are making a claim against a limited company, contact us for advice.
You can make your claim using the new online service if you meet the following criteria.
- You’re claiming less than £10,000.
- You’re over 18 and your claim is against someone who’s over 18.
- You have an address in the UK.
- You’re not making a claim under the Consumer Credit Act 1974, unless it is to enforce a ‘regulated agreement’ relating only to money.
- You’re not making a claim for personal injury.
- You’re not making a claim for a tenancy deposit.
The new online service is designed to be simple to use, so that most people will not need a solicitor to help them.
When you use make a claim online you will start by answering some questions to make sure the type of claim you have is suitable for the service. You will then need to create an account if you do not already have one.
You will see a list of things you need to complete in order to start your claim on the claim overview screen. You can complete each of these steps when you are ready, as you can save your progress and log back into your account. You can change the details you enter about your claim as many times as you need to up until you choose to submit your claim and make the payment. If you make any changes after you have submitted your claim you will need to pay an additional fee.
Money Claim Online
If you are not able to make a claim using the new online service but you want to make a claim online, you may be able to use an alternative digital service called Money Claim Online (MCOL). MCOL can be used to make online claims of up to £100,000 if the claim meets all of the required criteria. Making a claim using MCOL is not covered by this fact sheet. You may need help from a solicitor to use MCOL. You can find more information in the MCOL guide.
Alternatively, you can make a paper claim in the post. If you make a paper claim, you need to complete a claim form N1. You can get this from your local County Court hearing centre or www.justice.gov.uk. The claim pack should contain guidance notes to help you fill in the form.
Make three copies of the forms (one for the court, one for the debtor and one for you). If there is more than one debtor you will need a further claim form.
Details of your claim
When you make a claim there will be sections of the application you need to complete which ask you to explain what your claim is about and how much it is for.
If you make your claim using the new online service, you will need to complete a section called ‘Claim amount’ where you say how much you think the debtor owes you and what this is for. The next screen allows you to calculate any interest you may want to add to your claim.
You then need to complete the ‘Claim details’ screen. This is where you explain how much you think the debtor should pay you and why. You will be able to give a more detailed timeline of events on the next screen. This should include when relevant events happened. For example, communications between you and the debtor, work carried out or payments made. Try to be as accurate as you can, even if you can’t remember the exact date.
Next you will need to say what evidence you have to show why the debtor owes you money. For example, this might be written communication such as letters, emails or text messages, or perhaps photos or anything else that supports your claim. Before you submit your claim, you will be able to check all of the information is correct. Once you confirm on the page that the information is true to the best of your knowledge and make the payment, your claim will be started. You will then be given a case number which is used to identify your claim.
If you make a paper claim, the part of the claim form where you explain what your claim is about and how much it is for is called the ‘particulars of claim’. See the example at the end of this section. Include a statement about what the claim is about. State what you are asking for (a claim for money) and the value of the claim. The court may strike out a claim if you do not give enough information. The value of the claim you state on the claim form is very important. This is because if it is defended, the court will allocate your case to the appropriate ‘track’ based on the value of the claim.
- Defended claims up to £10,000 will be allocated to the ‘small claims track’. The small claims track process allows you and the debtor to act for yourselves without the need for legal representation.
- If the claim is for an amount between £10,000 and £25,000, it will be allocated to the ‘fast track’.
- If the claim is for an amount between £25,000 and 100,000 and is not considered to be a complex case, it will be allocated to the ‘intermediate track’.
- If the claim is for an amount over £100,000, or considered to be complex, it will be allocated to the 'multi track'.
For further information about making a court claim, see www.gov.uk.
Example particulars of claim
The claimant's claim is for goods sold and supplied to the defendant as shown below.
Invoice No: Date Amount Inv00121 01/08/13 £500.00 Inv00122 01/08/13 £350.00 Inv000123 01/08/13 £150.00 Total £1,000.00
And the claimant claims interest at the rate of 8% per annum, pursuant to section 69 of the County Courts Act 1984, from the date payment was due to the date of the issue of these proceedings, amounting to £26.40. Interest is made up as follows.
Invoice No: Amount Inv00121 £13.20 Inv00122 £312 Inv000123 £3.96
together with continuing interest at the rate of £0.22 per day until judgment or earlier payment.
If you want to claim interest, it must be stated on your claim as shown in the example in the previous section. You cannot apply for it at a later date.
What interest can I claim if the debtor is an individual?
Section 69 of the County Court Act 1984 allows you to make a claim for interest up to the date of judgment, but you do not have to do so. See the box in the previous section for an example. The court will make the final decision about whether to allow this claim for interest.
To work out the daily rate of interest, multiply the amount of the debt by 0.00022. In the example in the previous section, the daily interest is £1000.00 x 0.00022 = £0.22 per day. If the court action was started on 28 November 2013, 120 days have passed between the date the payment became due (1 August 2013) and the start of the court action. Therefore the total interest is 120 x £0.22 = £26.40.
What interest can I claim if the debtor is a business?
If the debtor is another business (that is, a sole trader, limited company or partnership) you can claim late payment interest under the Late Payment of Commercial Debts (Interest) Act 1998. This is calculated at 8% above the Bank of England base rate. It can be charged at a daily rate on the amount owed from the time the debt became overdue. This overdue date will be after the end of a period that was agreed between you and the debtor when you supplied goods or services to them.
Also, compensation for the cost of recovery can be claimed for each invoice you issue. The amount of compensation depends on the amount of the invoice. The Late Payment of Commercial Debts Act 1998 sets out the amount of compensation that can be claimed.
- For each invoice less than £1,000, £40 can be claimed.
- For each invoice of £1,000 or more but less than £10,000, £70 compensation can be claimed.
- For each invoice of £10,000 or more, £100 can be claimed.
For any contracts made on or after 16 March 2013, if the ‘reasonable’ cost of you recovering the debt is more than the amount of compensation in this list, you are entitled to an extra amount to cover the difference. There is no definition of what is reasonable. Contact us for advice.
Late payment interest
For more information on late payment interest, see payontime.co.uk or contact us for advice.
Issuing and serving the claim
If you make your claim using the new online service, your claim will be started once you complete the confirmation screen and make the payment. You will be given a case number which is used to identify your claim.
The court should notify you when the claim form has been issued, and confirm the date of issue and the date the debtor needs to respond by. The court will send a paper form to the debtor using the address for service that you provided. The debtor will also receive a notification of your claim by email if you provided their email address.
If you are filling in the forms by hand rather than online, post your claim, together with the appropriate fee, to the following address.
Civil National Business Centre
St Katharine’s House
21-27 St Katharine’s Street
Remember to keep a copy of the forms for yourself. Fees can be paid by cheque or postal order, made payable to ‘HMCTS’.
The court will issue the claim and allocate it a case number. You will be sent a form telling you what the case number is. Do not lose this number. It is the main way of identifying your claim.
If you cannot afford the fees, you may be able to claim exemption in certain circumstances. See Do I have to pay a court fee? at the end of this fact sheet.
Where should the claim form be served ?
The table below shows the rules about where a claim should be served (the place where it should be sent to).
Nature of party to be served Place to be served Individual Usual or last known residence. Owner of the business or partner of a business Usual or last known residence or place of business or last known place of business. Company registered in England and Wales Registered office of the company or any place of business that has a real connection with the claim (for example, shops where goods were bought).
If the address you need to send the claim form to is outside the UK, you will need advice from a solicitor.
If the post office returns the claim form, the court will send you a notice of non-service on form N216. It will tell you what you need to do next to serve the claim yourself.
When will the claim form be served?
If you make your claim using the new online service, the court should issue the claim form and confirm the date of issue after you complete the claim application. Under the court rules, the debtor will be treated as having received the claim five calendar days after it was issued. This is when the claim is said to be ‘served’. Calendar days include Saturdays, Sundays, bank holidays, Christmas Day and Good Friday.
If you post a paper claim to the Civil National Business Centre, the debtor will be treated as having received the claim two business days after it was posted to them. Business days do not include Saturdays, Sundays, bank holidays, Christmas Day and Good Friday.
How may the debtor respond to the claim?
Once a debtor receives the claim, they can:
- admit the debt by responding online or by completing and sending back the paper admission form (see the next section Debtor admits the claim);
- complete the acknowledgment of service (see the later section Debtor completes the acknowledgement of service);
- defend the claim or make a counterclaim (see the later section Debtor makes a defence or counterclaim); or
- fail to respond to the claim (see the later section Debtor does not reply to the claim form).
In the next four sections, we explain in more detail the next steps you can take, depending on how the debtor responded to the claim.
Debtor admits the claim
If you made a claim online and the debtor admits the claim, they can either respond online or send you the completed admission form N9A, along with an offer of payment. They should do this within 14 days of the claim form being served. However, if the debtor misses the 14 day deadline they still have time to respond, as long as they do so before the court makes a default judgment.
If you accept the debtor’s offer of payment, you can ask the court to make a county court judgment on those terms. You can do this online if that is where you started your claim, or fill in the bottom half of the form N205A and send it to the court. Both you and the debtor will be sent a copy of the form N30(1) stating how much must be paid and when. If the debtor does not keep to the payments that have been ordered, you have more ways of taking further action against them to enforce the judgment. See the later section How can I enforce the judgment?.
If you reject the debtor’s offer of payment, you can use the online service if that is where you started your claim or complete the bottom half of form N205A. Explain why you object to the rate of payment that the debtor has offered. Send this to the court office with a copy of the debtor’s admission form. Remember to keep your own copies of these forms. A member of the court staff will consider your objections and make a decision about what would be reasonable for the debtor to pay. This is called a ‘determination’. In some situations, this determination will be made by a District Judge. The court will send you and the debtor a copy of the order on form N30(2). This will tell the debtor that the order has been made and explain why it may be different from the original offer they made. It will also tell them how much to pay, when to pay and the address to which payments should be sent.
If you disagree with the rate of payment set by the court, you can object online if that is where you started your claim or write to the court within 14 days of receiving the judgment. If the original determination was made by a District Judge at a hearing, you do not have this right. You should send a copy of your letter to the debtor. A District Judge will then deal with your objections, with or without a hearing. If there is a hearing you will be told its time, date and place. If the debtor is an individual whose address is in another County Court hearing centre’s area, the case will be sent to that hearing centre. You will be sent notice of this. If the judge changes the rate of payment, you and the debtor will be sent a copy of form N30(3). This will tell you how much the debtor should pay and when. If the debtor does not keep to the terms of the judgment, you have more ways of taking further enforcement action against them. See the later section How can I enforce the judgment?.
If the debtor admits your claim but does not make an offer of payment, you must decide how you want the money paid. You can ask for the debt to be paid immediately (known as a ‘forthwith judgment’) or you could ask for it to be paid in instalments over a period of time. Tell the court what you want the terms of the judgment to be using the online service if that is where you started your claim, or by using form N205A. If the debtor does not keep to the terms of the judgment, you have more ways of taking further enforcement action against them. See the later section How can I enforce the judgment?.
Debtor completes the acknowledgement of service
The debtor may complete an acknowledgement of service if they intend to defend the claim but need more time to prepare. They need to do this within 14 days of the claim form being served, either online or by sending form N9 back to the court. This will increase the time they have to complete and return the defence form from 14 days to 28 days from the date the claim form was served. You will be sent form N10 to tell you that this has happened.
Debtor makes a defence or counter claim
The debtor may complete and send their defence either 14 days after service of the claim or, if the acknowledgment of service is returned, within 28 days of service of the claim.
This will either be online or you will be sent a copy of the defence form N9B. The debtor may also use this form to make a claim against you (a counterclaim). You will be sent a notice of proposed allocation, and will need to complete a directions questionnaire. You need to respond either online or on the form stated in the notice. This will be either form N180 or form N181. Once this has been returned, the case will be transferred to the debtor’s local County Court hearing centre, if the debtor is an individual (rather than a limited company) and you are claiming a defined amount of money.
The debtor needs to show reasonable grounds for a defence. If they do not, the court may immediately strike out their defence. If this happens, a county court judgment will usually be made against them at the same time.
The directions questionnaire allows the court to allocate the claim to the correct track. This decision depends on the value of the claim and how complicated the case is. Complete the directions questionnaire and send this to the court address listed, by the date stated. This will be 14 or 28 days from the date on the notice, depending on the proposed track.
After receiving the directions questionnaire, the court will allocate the case to a track. The court will then send details of this out to all parties in a ‘notice of allocation’ and give you ‘directions’ about what you need to do to prepare for the hearing.
If you do not send the directions questionnaire back to the court in time, the court can give you another 7 days to respond.
If you do not reply in this time, you will not be allowed to continue your claim.
If you think that your claim is likely to be defended, contact us for advice.
Debtor does not reply to the claim
If the debtor does not reply to the claim form in time, you can ask the court to enter ‘judgment in default’. You should do this as soon as possible because the debtor can still reply to the original claim until you have asked the court to make a judgment. You can ask for the judgment to be made on the terms that you would like. For example, you can ask that the debt should be paid forthwith (immediately) or by instalments. The court will then use this information to make a judgment on the form N30 which will then be sent to both you and the debtor. A forthwith judgment means that the debtor is immediately in default (that is, they have not kept to the terms of the judgment). This means you have more ways of enforcing the county court judgment. See the next section How can I enforce the judgment? for more information.
How can I enforce the judgment?
There are different ways of taking further action against the debtor to enforce the county court judgment. Some of these types of action can only be used if the debtor does not repay the debt as the court ordered. Each method of enforcement requires you to make an application to court and provide certain details about the debtor (sometimes on oath).
You will also have to pay a fee to the court unless you are exempt. See the section Do I have to pay a court fee? at the end of this fact sheet. All court fees that you have reasonably had to pay can be added to the debt owed. You can find details of the main court fees on EX50 Fees in the Civil and Family Courts on www.gov.uk.
Think about which will be the best way for you to recover the debt. This may depend on what you know about the debtor’s situation (for example, what assets they have and whether they have any available income or money in their bank account). If you know very little about the debtor, you could apply for an ‘order to obtain information’. This would order the debtor to go to court and give information about their circumstances. Details of the questions that they would be asked are on the form EX140 (or form EX141 for Limited Companies). This is available from the court. Alternatively, you can search for court forms on www.gov.uk.
An application for an order to obtain information is made on:
- form N316 where the debtor is an individual; or
- form N316A where the debtor is a limited company (where the officer of the company would be questioned).
There is a fee to pay with this application.
Contacting the court by email
You may be able to contact the court by email. Contact the court for advice.
Warrant of control (bailiffs)
Once the debtor does not pay the county court judgment (CCJ) as ordered, you can apply to the court for a warrant of control. This is done on form N323. The application should be made to the Civil National Business Centre. See the earlier section Issuing and serving a claim for their address. The fee for this depends on how much you are trying to collect. You can apply for a warrant for the total amount owed, or just part of it. The least that you can ask to be collected is one monthly instalment, four weekly instalments or £50 (whichever is greater).
The warrant of control allows bailiffs to be used to try to take control of the debtor’s goods. If the bailiffs are successful, these goods may then be sold to raise money to pay towards the debt. If the debtor lives or trades in the area of another court, bailiffs from that court will act.
The bailiff should send the debtor a notice giving at least seven clear days before they may visit to take control of goods. ‘Clear days’ do not include Sundays, Christmas Day or bank holidays. If the bailiffs are able to take the debtor’s goods, they will deduct their fees from the amount that the goods are sold for. The rest of the money will be sent to you.
This method is only likely to be successful in getting your money back if the debtor has enough assets for the bailiffs to take and sell.
Terms used to describe bailiffs
Bailiffs are also commonly known as enforcement agents. In this fact sheet we use the term bailiff.
Transfer to the High Court
In some circumstances, the debt can be transferred to the High Court for high court bailiffs to act.
- If the CCJ is £600 or more but less than £5,000, the debt is not regulated by the Consumer Credit Act and you want to use bailiff action against the debtor, you may apply for it to be enforced through the High Court by high court bailiffs.
- If the CCJ is at least £5,000, the debt is not regulated by the Consumer Credit Act, and you want to use bailiff action against the debtor, you must apply for it to be enforced by high court bailiffs.
High court bailiffs are private bailiffs. High court bailiffs are not employees of the court, although their powers are very similar to those of county court bailiffs. However, there are advantages to transferring a judgment to the High Court for enforcement. For example, for county court judgments of £600 or more but less than £5,000, statutory interest (currently 8%) cannot always be charged on the judgment whilst it remains in the County Court. However, if the judgment is transferred to the High Court for enforcement, statutory interest can be charged from the date of transfer. This applies even if it was not claimed on the original county court claim.
This type of interest is different to the interest that can be added on before the judgment is made. For information about the interest that can be added before judgment, see the earlier sections What interest can I claim if the debtor is an individual? and What interest can I claim if the debtor is a business?.
If you wish to enforce the judgment through the High Court, you need to complete form N293A. This is available from the court. There is a fee to pay. Include details of any interest claimed.
Are there goods the bailiff cannot take?
County court bailiffs and high court bailiffs should not take:
- clothing, bedding, furniture and basic household items that are necessary for the basic domestic needs of the debtor and their family;
- tools, books, telephones, computers, vehicles and other items of equipment that the debtor personally needs to use in their job, business or education (up to a total value of £1,350); and
- items that the debtor leases or rents.
The goods that bailiffs are not allowed to take include the following.
- A cooker or microwave.
- A refrigerator.
- A washing machine.
- A dining table and chairs for the debtor and their household. This is not a complete list of the goods that bailiffs should not take. If you are unsure whether an item is exempt or not, contact us for advice.
Bailiffs can only take goods that the debtor owns, or jointly owns. They cannot take things that other people, such as family members, solely own. Also, bailiffs should not remove items straight away that the debtor or someone else is physically using where taking the goods is likely to lead to a breach of the peace.
Bailiffs cannot usually take goods on hire-purchase or conditional-sale agreements. If they threaten to do this, contact us for advice.
What if there are no goods that the bailiff can take?
If your county court judgment (CCJ) is being enforced by county court bailiffs, the court will tell you in writing that there are no goods that the bailiff can take. They will also inform you if the goods are not worth enough to cover their removal and sale costs.
If your CCJ is being enforced by high court bailiffs, they will tell you directly if there are no goods to be seized, or if the goods are not worth enough to cover their removal and sale costs. Also, the high court bailiffs should tell you directly about any offer of payment that the debtor makes so that you can decide whether to accept it or not.
When you apply for the warrant of control, tell the court and the bailiffs about any valuable goods that you know the debtor owns (for example, a car). This is because debtors may move valuable items to avoid the bailiffs taking them.
Bailiffs have 12 months from the date of the first notice they sent to the debtor to take control of goods. If the bailiff and debtor agree a payment arrangement, the 12 months will not start until the payment arrangement has been broken.
Can I re-issue the warrant?
If the bailiff notifies you that the debtor has moved and you later find out where they have moved to, you can ask for the warrant to be re-issued. You will have to pay another fee.
If the debtor is a business, you can try to use bailiffs at different trading addresses if you believe goods belonging to the debtor might be elsewhere.
Can the warrant be suspended?
If your county court judgment (CCJ) is being enforced by county court bailiffs and the debtor cannot pay the debt, the debtor can apply to suspend the bailiff action. If they do this, you will be sent a copy of their application, including an offer of repayment. The forms you receive will tell you how to reply.
If you accept the debtor’s offer, the court will send out an order including the agreed terms. As long as payment is made to you as required, the court has no further involvement.
If you reject the debtor’s offer, the rate of repayment will be determined by a court officer. If you are not satisfied with the decision that is made, you may ask for it to be re-considered by a District Judge. You will need to write to the court within 14 days of service. You and the debtor will be asked to attend a hearing. If you do not attend, the court may still make a new order.
If the debtor does not keep up with the payments that the court orders, you may ask for the warrant to be re-activated using form N445. There is no charge for this.
High Court enforcement
If your CCJ is being enforced by high court bailiffs, the procedure is different. The debtor can make an application to the High Court for a ‘stay of execution’ to stop the bailiffs acting. This application will be heard by a High Court ‘master’.
In certain circumstances, you can apply for an order to secure the debt against the debtor’s property. This is known as a ‘charging order’. A charging order may be made against things such as shares or an insurance policy, but is most commonly used against a debtor’s home. A charging order will not recover your money immediately, but will mean that you are paid when the property is sold in the future. You may need a solicitor to help you apply for a charging order.
- If you applied for a county court judgment before 1 October 2012, you can only apply for a charging order if the debtor does not pay the judgment as the court ordered.
- If you applied for a county court judgment on or after 1 October 2012, you can apply for a charging order even if the debtor has paid the judgment as the court ordered.
How do I apply for a charging order? (H3) You must complete:
- form N379 for a charge against land or property; or
- form N380 for a charge against stocks or shares. There is a fee to pay. A court officer will usually make an interim charging order on form N86, but some cases will be passed to a judge. Both you and the debtor can ask a judge to reconsider a decision made by a court officer, but only have 14 days to do so.
If a judge grants an interim charging order, they may transfer the case to the debtor’s local county court hearing centre for a hearing about whether a final charging order should be made. If this happens the debtor should send their objections to both you and the court at least 7 days before the hearing.
Once an interim charging order is made
When you receive the interim order, you should register this with the Land Registry, see www.gov.uk. You will need to serve copies of the interim charging order, the application notice, and any documents you filed in support of this, on the debtor within 21 days of the order being made. You may also have to serve this information on other people, for example co-owners of the property, or the debtor’s spouse or civil partner.
Once this information has been served, the debtor has 28 days to object to the charging order being made final. If no objection is received a final charging order can be made by a judge without a hearing. If objections are received, the case will be transferred to the debtor’s local county court hearing centre for a hearing with a judge.
Once a final charging order is made
A final charging order will be made on form N87 which will be sent to you and the debtor. When the order is made final, contact the Land Registry, see www.gov.uk. You should also do this if your application is unsuccessful so that the interim order can be removed.
If you have a final charging order, in certain circumstances you can apply for an order for sale to force the debtor to sell their home. You are likely to need a solicitor to help you if you are considering this option. Business Debtline can help you to find legal advice that is right for you. Contact us for advice.
Attachment of earnings
If the debtor does not pay the county court judgment as ordered, you can apply to court for an order allowing deductions to be made directly from the debtor’s wages. To do this, the debtor must be an employee working for an employer. You will need to complete form N337. There is a fee to pay.
If your application is successful, the court will order the debtor to pay the debt in full or fill in a form giving details of their income and outgoings. If the debtor does not cooperate, they risk being arrested and taken to court. A court officer will use the information the debtor provides to decide the rate at which the debt can be paid back. An order will then be made and sent to the debtor’s employer. The debtor can ask for this to be suspended if they do not want their employer to be contacted. If the court agrees, they will tell the debtor to pay the money directly to you. If they do not do this, you can apply on form N446 for the court to reissue the order to the employer. There is no fee to pay for this.
If you disagree with the court officer’s decision about the attachment of earnings order, you can apply to the court within 14 days of service for a District Judge to consider a fair way for the debtor to pay. Use form N244 for this application. An appointment will be made for you to go to court, which you should attend. There is a fee to pay.
Third party debt order
If the debtor does not pay the county court judgment as ordered, you can apply for an order allowing you to get payment from money owed to the debtor, or held by a third party on the debtor’s behalf. If a debtor has money in a bank or building society account, or other money owed to them, a third party debt order will require the other party (known as the third party) to pay money in to court. The order freezes the account up to the amount owing. You cannot apply for the order to be made against a joint account (unless the county court judgment is against both of the account holders).
The timing of the order is important as it will only freeze money held in the account on the day of the order and not money paid in afterwards. You apply on form N349. There is a fee to pay for the application.
If your application is successful, the court will issue an ‘interim third party debt order’ on form N84. A copy will be sent to you and the third party. The debtor will not receive a copy until at least seven days have passed since the third party received their copy. This gives time for the money to be frozen. The order will include a date for a hearing to decide whether the money frozen should be paid to you. It is important to attend the hearing.
If the debtor or the third party object to the order being made final, they must send their objections to you in writing at least three days before the hearing.
If the debtor is an individual, they can apply for the release of some of the money if they are suffering hardship. At the third party debt order hearing, the judge will make an order after considering all the evidence. If the third party debt order is made final, the order will be on form N85 and will give instructions to the third party about what should be paid to you and when.
Using more than one method of enforcement
You are allowed to use more than one type of enforcement at the same time or one after the other. However, if you have an attachment of earnings order against the debtor, you cannot use other methods of enforcement at the same time unless the court gives you permission.
Do I have to pay a court fee?
You may be able to get help with court fees, but you need to pass to tests to qualify. See our Help with court fees fact sheet for more information.