If someone is trying to claim against you for money which you don’t believe you owe, we can help you to defend it.
Ideally, you should contact us at the Letter Before Claim stage, before any proceedings are issued. But, if you’ve already received a Claim, don’t panic, we can help at every stage. This is the typical timeline of actions:
So, you have received a Claim Form in the post, from the Northampton Business Centre, and it shows that another person or company is trying to claim a sum of money from you. It is NOT a summons, it is merely a statement to the court that the other party believes you owe them the amount claimed. Northampton is purely an administrative centre, all claims start there, but if you elect to defend it, the case will be transferred to the County Court nearest to your home address.
Please note – these forms are computer generated, and some people have ignored them because the seal does not look ‘official’. Don’t make that mistake – if in any doubt, phone the Northampton Business Centre on 0300 123 1056 to check the claim number.
This will typically contain –
- The name and address of the Claimant (or optionally, the address of their solicitors for service)
- The Particulars of Claim – this will outline why they believe a debt is owed
- The amount claimed – this is usually the original alleged debt, plus the court issue fee, plus ‘solicitors costs’ of up to £50.
All of the above can be found on Page 1 of the form, then there are additional pages for your response, and statement of means.
The vast majority of these Claim Forms are issued via the Moneyclaim Online (MCOL) service, which Claimants can access electronically at https://www.moneyclaim.gov.uk/web/mcol/welcome
A small number will be manual forms, issued through the bulk centre at Salford – they will have a Salford address for return.
If you have an MCOL claim, the first thing to do is to register for a Government Gateway account, by using the second box ‘Register as an Individual’ on the link shown above. You can choose your own password for this. Once that’s done, you can login, and then access the claim using the claim number (top right of the form) and the claim password (bottom right).
The essential thing you MUST do, is Acknowledge Service of the claim, and the deadline for this is 14 days from the date shown on the form. If you are going to defend the claim, then DO NOT put anything at all, not even a full stop, in the Defence text box – just do the Acknowledgement of Service, and tick the box which says that you will defend the claim in full. This extends the deadline for submitting a defence to 28 days from date of service, which is counted as 5 days after the date shown on the claim form to allow for postage.
One question on the form asks if you wish to contest jurisdiction. If you live in England or Wales, the answer is NO. Only tick YES if you live in Scotland or Northern Ireland, or outside the UK.
You have now completed the Acknowledgement of Service, and require a Defence Statement.
In order for us to provide you with a statement which gives you the best possible chance of success, we need to get as much information as possible about the circumstances of the alleged debt. To do that, we need a scanned copy of page 1 of the Claim Form, and for you to return the Questionnaire that we send you, with all questions answered in as much detail as possible.
The Defence Statement will essentially be a summary of the facts of the case and legal arguments relevant to your defence, but it is important to recognise that you, or we, cannot add any additional points at a later date, so it’s vital that the defence includes at least a mention of everything you wish to rely on at a court hearing. The points can be expanded upon once the case gets to the Witness Statement / Skeleton Argument stage, usually 14 days before the hearing date, and any supporting documents are also submitted at that stage.
Once we have supplied you with the text of your defence, you can either log back in to MCOL and submit it online, or if it won’t fit the form, print it out and post it by registered post to Northampton. If you’re sending it as a posted document, it should be headed with the case number and names of the parties, Claimant and Defendant, and signed by you under the statement ‘I believe the facts contained in this Defence Statement are true’, or words to that effect. We will advise you on this.
If the deadline for submission is getting a bit tight, it is also worth emailing the Defence Statement to firstname.lastname@example.org, putting the claim number in the subject line.
You have now submitted your Defence Statement, and the Northampton office will send a copy of that to the Claimant, notifying them that it is now a defended claim.
If the Claimant wishes to continue to pursue the case, they must send a Directions Questionnaire (form N180) to the court, and a copy to the defendant. The court will also send you a form N180, which you must complete and return by the specified date, and send a copy to the Claimant. Please note, from this point onwards, anything which you send to the Court, must also be copied to the Claimant (or their solicitors).
The recommended answers to the questions are as follows:
A1 = NO to mediation (they want the whole amount, you want to pay them nothing, so no scope for mediation. This will not go against you)
B = fill in all the details, name, address, etc
C1 = YES to small claims track – this is the limited costs track for claims up to £10,000 in value
D1 = name of your local County Court – unless you are a Ltd company, the case files will be transferred there
D2 = NO to expert evidence (this relates to medical negligence cases and suchlike)
D3 = 1 witness (that’s you) (or more if you are going to get another person to provide a statement)
D4 = Put down the dates of any pre-booked holidays, NO to interpreter (unless you need one).
The Claimant may also provide a ‘Reply To Defence’ at this stage, in which they attempt to rebut your defence points.
The Directions Questionnaires have been filed and served, and you should receive a letter from Northampton confirming that the case is allocated to the small claims track, and the case has been transferred to your local County Court.
Within about 4 weeks, you will get a letter from a Judge at your local court, notifying you of the date and time of the hearing. It will also say that your witness statement, and any other documents you intend to rely on, must be filed and served by an earlier date – usually 14 days before the hearing, unless the Judge has specified otherwise.
The Witness Statement is simply a statement of facts, relating to the events giving rise to the claim, which we will prepare in the correct format based on the information you have supplied. Any supporting documents, such as photos, copies of contracts, invoices etc., should be included as attachments. If there is another person giving a statement on your behalf, you should get them to write that in their own words and send it to us, and we will format that as a witness statement as well.
The Skeleton Argument is not mandatory in small claims cases, but is a useful tool both for the Judge to see a summary of the defence points, and for you to refer to if conducting your own defence case. It simply sets out, in a logical sequence of numbered paragraphs, the main issues and the legal arguments as to why you should not be held liable for the alleged debt. It may refer to other court cases which create a precedent for your case, these are known as ‘authorities’, and copies of the relevant judgments can be printed out and taken to court on the day of the hearing.
Your documents, once completed, should be signed and dated, and filed with the Court and served on the Claimant, by the deadline date.
It may be possible, subject to location and dates, to arrange for a Lay Representative to go along and represent you at the hearing. We will advise you of availability and fees.
You have now completed all the paperwork stages, and have copies of all case documents, sent and received, neatly sorted in a file.
You should arrive at the Court at least 30 minutes before the listed start time, to allow for getting parked, and going through the airport-style security scan at the Court main entrance. You should aim to report to the Usher at least 15 minutes before the start time, and make sure you know which courtroom or side hearing room your case is in. There will be a list up on the wall of the waiting area, with the details of all the day’s cases. Also bear in mind that Courts often schedule more cases than they can deal with, in the hope that some will settle beforehand, or not turn up, so you may be waiting around for some time before your case is called – if you’ve taken time off work, it’s best to book the whole day.
The Usher may direct you towards the representative for the other side, as parties are always encouraged to reach a settlement out of court. You may reach an agreement at that late stage, but it doesn’t often happen. Anything you discuss in the waiting area is on a ‘without prejudice’ basis, and can’t be mentioned inside the Court.
The Usher will call your case when the Judge is ready, and show you into the room – it may be an actual courtroom, with the Judge sitting up on a bench, or more usually a side room with seats around a table. The usher or judge will indicate where you should sit.
Important points to remember –
- Dress as if you were going for a job interview
- Address the Judge as Sir or Madam
- Only address your remarks to the Judge, not to the other side
- Don’t get into an argument with the Judge, if he’s against you on one point, move on to the next
- Be polite and respectful at all times
The Judge will normally ask the Claimant to present their case, then the Defendant to present theirs. If you are unrepresented, this is where your Skeleton Argument is invaluable. The Judge may interrupt and ask questions, so it’s important that you fully understand your points, and can explain them.
Having heard from both sides, the Judge will then decide whether the claim succeeds or fails. If the claim is awarded in favour of the Claimant, you will have to pay the amount on the claim form plus the hearing fee, within 28 days or as otherwise directed. Provided you pay within the timescale, no CCJ will appear on your credit file.
If the claim is dismissed, you have won and have nothing to pay. You can ask the Judge to award your costs – loss of earnings up to £95 for the day, parking at the court, and return mileage from home at 45p per mile. If you can show that the other side has acted unreasonably – for example, by not turning up without notifying you in advance – you can claim further costs as per Civil Procedure Rule 27.14(2)(g).