Once you have issued your claim, within 14 days of receiving (being ‘served’ with) your particulars of your claim, the defendant must send to the court (called ‘filing’) either: If you issued your claim through money claim on line you will be able to access there.
- an acknowledgment of service; or
- a defence.
If the court served your particulars of claim with the claim form, a Form N205A (notice of issue) will be sent to you by the court office and show the date by which the defendant must reply. You will have to wait until after this date before you can take any further action.
If the defendant does not reply to your claim, you can ask the court to enter judgment ‘by default’ (that is, make an order that the defendant pay you the amount you have claimed plus court fee as no reply or defence has been received). You should do this as soon as possible after the 14 days have passed.
Until the court receives your request to enter judgment, the defendant can still reply to your claim. If the court receives the defendant’s reply before your request, that reply will have priority even though it has been filed late.
If you do not request judgment within six months of the end of the period for filing a defence, your claim will be ‘stayed’ (stopped or halted) and the only action you could take would be to apply to a judge for an order lifting the stay.
Before you complete the form asking the court to enter judgment you must decide how you want the defendant to pay the amount owing. Think carefully about this. You may want the money paid immediately, but you may be more likely to get it if you allow the defendant to pay by instalments over a period of time. This will depend on the defendant’s circumstances.
What you have to do depends on whether your claim was for:
- a fixed amount of money (a ‘specified amount’);or
- an amount which is not fixed (an ‘unspecified amount’).
An unspecified amount of money is one which is not precise. For example, if you are claiming damages (compensation) for loss or injury, you might not have been able to work out exactly what those damages are. You might, however, know that you are unlikely to recover damages beyond a particular amount, for example, damages ‘limited to £10,000’. This would be a claim for an unspecified amount.
Complete the request form once you have decided how you would like to be paid. There are notes for guidance on the form to help you.
The court will use what you say to enter judgment in your favour and send you and the defendant Form N30 (judgment for claimant).
The form tells the defendant:
- how much to pay;
- when to pay it; and
- the address to which money should be sent.
The judgment will be recorded on the Register of Judgments, Orders and Fines which contains details of court judgments and its records are used by the credit industry to check whether or not they think it wise to lend money. Defendant’s whose judgments are recorded on the register may find it difficult to obtain credit.
If your claim was for an unspecified amount, you would have been given or sent a Form N205B (notice of issue) when your claim was issued. Use the bottom half of this form to ask the court to make an order that the defendant is ‘liable’ (responsible) for your claim. The court will decide what amount the defendant should pay and a judge will decide:
- whether a court hearing is necessary; and
- what you need to do to help the judge make a decision as to the amount of money you are entitled to, for example, what evidence you should provide.
This is called giving ‘directions’. Once the judge has made a decision, you and the defendant will be sent an order. This will say you are entitled to judgment on liability and will set out any other directions the judge has given.
The judge may give directions either:
- allocating your claim to the small claims track; or
- directing that your claim is given a ‘disposal’ hearing.
At the disposal hearing the judge will either:
- give more detailed directions about, for example, the documents and evidence needed, to help the judge make a final decision about the amount; or
- decide the amount the defendant has to pay, if it is a simple case which does not need a lengthy hearing.
This will depend upon:
- the likely amount of the damages.
- whether the defendant is likely to dispute the amount of damages, and
- whether the judge feels there is sufficient proof in the papers available at the hearing to make a final decision.
However, the judge will not normally use the disposal hearing to make a final decision unless any written evidence you intend to provide to the court has been sent to (‘served on’) the defendant at least three days before the disposal hearing is due to take place.
After the disposal hearing, court staff will set out what the judge decided in an order. Copies will be sent to you and the defendant.
If the defendant does not pay, it is up to you to ask the court to take further action, called ‘enforcing the judgment’. The court will not do anything unless you ask it to.
If the defendant files an acknowledgment of service within 14 days of service instead of a defence they are given extra time in which to prepare their defence. The time for filing a defence is increased from 14 to 28 days from the date of service of your particulars of claim. If they then then fail to file a defence, you can ask the court to enter ‘judgment in default’.
When the court receives the acknowledgment of service you will be sent a Form N10 (notice that acknowledgment of service has been filed). It will tell you:
- the date it was received.
- whether the defendant intends to defend all or part of your claim and any change in the defendant’s name and address which is mentioned in the acknowledgment.
The defendant may also use this form to make a claim against you, that is, say that you owe money to the defendant. This is called ‘making a counterclaim’.
If you are claiming against more than one defendant, they may not reply to your claim at the same time. If one files a defence before the other, the court will send a letter to you and the defendant who files the first defence. The letter will explain that the court will delay sending out any further documents until the other defendants to your claim have had the appropriate time to file a defence, if they wish.
The court will also send you and the defendant Form N150 (allocation questionnaire) andForm N152 (notice of defence).
You will also be sent a Form N271 (notice of transfer) if the court transfers the claim. It will do so where:
- your claim is for a specific amount; and
- the defendant is an individual who resides or carries on business in another court’s area.
The notice of transfer will tell you the name and address of the court to which the claim is being transferred.
Once a claim becomes defended, a judge will manage the case and make sure that it is prepared and progresses to final hearing or trial as quickly as possible. This is called ‘judicial case management’. To ensure that the claim receives the right amount of the court’s attention and involvement, a procedural judge, who will normally be a district judge, will allocate the claim to one of the three tracks. These are:
- the small claims track,
- the fast track or
- the multi-track.
Each track offers a different way of handling claims, taking account of things like:
- their value (the amount of money or damages being claimed);
- the claim’s complexity (the amount of evidence needed, the number of parties and witnesses); and
- the need for expert reports.
The court can allocate a claim to a track that usually deals with claims of a higher value but cannot allocate the claim to a track that usually deals with claims of a lower value, without the consent of all the parties.
To help the procedural judge make a decision about which track is most appropriate, all parties to a defended claim will be asked to fill in Form N150 (allocation questionnaire). It will be sent with a Form N152 (notice of defence). Form N152 will tell you the name and address of the court to which the questionnaire must be returned and the date by which you must do this. You will also find this information on the questionnaire itself.
As claimant, you must also remember to return the questionnaire with the appropriate fee.
Court staff will keep a note of the date when the allocation questionnaires are due to be returned. This is called ‘case monitoring’.
When all the questionnaires have been returned, or when the time for their return has passed, court staff will refer the court file to a procedural judge. If everyone has returned their questionnaires, the judge will use the answers to the questions in them to help decide which is the most appropriate track for managing the claim.
When the judge has made a decision, this will be sent to you and any other party, in the form of an order called a ‘notice of allocation’. The notice will tell you which track your claim has been allocated to. It will also tell you what you must do to prepare your case for trial or final hearing (called ‘directions’).
If your claim is allocated to the small claims track you will usually be told when and where the hearing will take place. If the claim is allocated to the fast track you will usually be told the period during which the trial of the claim will take place. (Fast track trials will not normally last longer than one day.)
If your claim is allocated to a track which is different to the one that you and any other party to the claim suggested was appropriate for it, you will be told the judge’s reasons for making a different decision.
If the questionnaire is not returned by the due date the court file will be referred to the procedural judge immediately after the time for returning the questionnaires has expired, even if only some or none of the questionnaires are returned.
The judge may decide to:
- allocate the case to a track without the information your questionnaire might have provided, especially if other parties to the claim have filed theirs; or
- impose a ‘sanction’ – this is like a penalty for failing to obey the court’s request that you complete and return the questionnaire by a specific date.
The sanction could be to send you an order to file a completed questionnaire a specified time of the date of service of the order (the day you receive it). If you do not comply with that order, your particulars of claim will be struck out. If it is the defendant who has not returned the questionnaire it would be the defence that was struck out. This means you could not proceed with your claim (or the defendant with the defence) because the documents referred to have been deleted and cannot be used.
As an alternative, the judge can order that you come to a court hearing to explain why you did not comply with the court’s request. If this happens you may be told to pay the other party’s costs of attending that hearing. You may be ordered to pay these straightaway or within a period of time fixed by the court. The judge may use this hearing to ask for the information needed to allocate the case to track.
If the defendant’s defence is that the money has already been paid the court will send you a copy of the defence Form N9B and Form N236 (notice of defence that amount claimed has been paid).
Form N236 will ask you to let the court know whether:
- you accept that the money has been paid; or
- you do not agree that it has been paid and that you wish the claim to continue as a defended claim.
You should fill in the ‘Claimant’s Reply’ section of the form indicating your answer and return it to the court by the date given on Form N236.
You must also send a copy of your reply to the defendant.
If you do not return the notice by the date shown, your claim will be ‘stayed’. This means that the court will not take any further action on your claim. The only action you or the defendant can take is to apply to the court for the stay to be lifted. You may have to pay a fee to do this.
If you indicate that you wish the claim to proceed as defended, the procedure (beginning with the sending out of the Allocation Questionnaire) set out above will apply.
If the claim is for a specified amount of money, the defendant will complete and file with the court:
- an admission form (N9A); and
- a defence and counterclaim form (N9B).
The forms will say how much of your claim is admitted and why the balance is disputed. In the admission form, the defendant may also request time to pay the amount admitted, either by instalments or at some future date.
The court will send you copies of the admission and defence forms. You will also be sent a Form N255A (notice of part admission). The notice asks you to tell the court:
- if you do not agree that only part of the claim is owed, that you wish the claim to proceed as a defended claim; or
- if you accept the part amount in full settlement of your claim, that you wish the court to enter judgment for that amount.
If the defendant has offered to pay the amount admitted by instalments, or at some future date, you must also tell the court whether or not the rate of payment is acceptable.
If you are not accepting the rate of payment offered you must say why you object. A court officer will calculate what might be an appropriate rate of payment. This process is called ‘determination’. You and the defendant will be sent a copy of the order which tells the defendant:
- how much to pay;
- to whom;
- where; and
If you do not accept the defendant’s part admission, your claim will proceed as defended and the procedure (beginning with the sending out of the Allocation Questionnaire) set out above will apply.