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What is a County Court Money Claim?
Any person or business can apply to a County Court to demand payment of an unpaid debt in accordance with Part 7 of the Ministry of Justice’s Civil Procedure Rules.
A claim takes place when an individual or business applies to a County Court to demand payment of an unpaid debt from a company or person. Before applying, a claimant should serve the debtor with a pre-action letter, which is a formal notice that:
- Explains the circumstances surrounding the debt
- Requests payment within 14 days.
The claimant can make a County Court Money Claim if the defendant fails to pay or reach an agreement to pay.
After the claimant has commenced proceedings, the court will issue a County Court Notice to be served on the defendant who has 14 days to acknowledge receipt.
At this stage, the defendant has 3 choices:
- Pay the debt in full
- Pay what they believe they owe
- Ask for an additional 14 days to defend the claim.
When a defendant fails to respond in time, they're deemed to have accepted the debt. This could lead the claimant to apply to the County Court for a default judgment.
Acknowledgement of Service and Default Judgement
To defend the claim, you (the defendant) must file an Acknowledgement of Service form. Upon receipt, the court will notify the claimant and prepare to process the claim. If no defence is filed, the claimant can complete and file a Request for Judgment form for the court to order a judgment in default. However, judgments in default can be set aside because the court has only heard from 1 party.
After a claim has been defended, but before the scheduling of hearing dates, the court will write to both parties and recommend they try settling the dispute though mediation. The court will suggest that defendant and claimant attend a mediation centre where they can share the costs for hiring a mediator at a rate of around £1,500-day.
For small claims of less than £10,000, neither party is entitled to recover costs. As a result, it's sometimes better for defendants to represent themselves as neither party will recoup their legal expenses.
Some debtors love County Courts because even the most flimsy defence can buy them an additional 6 months for a debt they'd originally agreed to pay within 30 days. As a result, it's normal for claimants to spend £10,000 to £15,000 trying to recover a £30,000 debt. Even if the claimant wins the case, by the end of the trial, the debtor would've had their £30,000 for 12 to 18 months.
Tips for Debtors and Company Directors
A shrewd defendant, who has no intention of paying, could create a dispute as this will prevent the claimant from issuing a winding-up petition on the debtor company. But a debtor with a weak defence should consider settling or quickly coming to some kind of arrangement. In truth, the claimant will probably be happy to take 50% of the debt now. That's because the alternative involves:
- Waiting for 6 to 12 months
- Paying legal fees
- Preparing for a trial that may not result in a favourable outcome
You're under no pressure because time is on your side. So why not approach the claimant with a view to settling? Also, if the claimant owes you money, you may consider counterclaiming. For example, a landlord who receives a County Court Claim for £20,000 from an electrician might say:
“Even though I owe you £20,000; the work you did was substandard and I had to get another electrician to fix the original problem, and your repairs. They charged £25,000, which I’m claiming against you. Let’s forget about the £5,000 difference and call it quits. But if you continue with your claim for £20,000, I’ll continue with mine for £25,000.”
County court debt claims are complex and you will need expert guidance and support. I&L help debtors navigate the court process. Call 020 7504 1300 now for free and confidential advice…