County Court - replying to a claim form

 October 2017

Fact sheet no. 20 EW County Court - replying to a claim form

This fact sheet tells you the options you have for responding to the court papers if a creditor asks the court to make a county court judgment (CCJ) against you for debt. It also explains the main types of action the creditor can take if their claim is successful.

Use this fact sheet to:

  • admit you owe the debt and make an offer of payment;
  • ask the court to look again at a decision they make about repayments;
  • admit part of the debt and dispute the other part; and
  • dispute that you owe the amount claimed.

This fact sheet includes links to the court forms that you might need to use.

Before court action

This factsheet covers the steps a business needs to take before starting court action. If the creditor is an individual they will need to follow the general practice direction - pre-action conduct instead.

The court expects people to do all they can to avoid court action. It expects both you and the creditor 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. If you are not sure that the creditor has behaved properly, contact us for advice.

If the creditor is a business they will need to follow court rules called the pre-action protocol for debt claims.

The letter from the creditor before court action starts

Under the pre-action protocol for debt claims, the creditor needs to send you a letter before any court action. They may refer to it as the letter of claim. The contents of the letter may vary, depending on whether the creditor thinks that you dispute the debt, or not. But in all cases letter of claim should:

Extra advice:

no letters received

If you have not had any letters from the creditor and they start court action against you, you may be able to ask the court to reduce the total amount you have to pay back. If you think that this may be the case, contact us for advice.

  • tell you what the debt is and how it has been worked out;
  • explain how you can pay the money;
  • let you know how to contact the creditor to talk about how to pay; and
  • include an information sheet which tells you where you can get free, independent advice.
 

What if I don’t think I owe the money? 

 
If you dispute that you owe the debt to a creditor, then there are different rules to follow. This fact sheet covers how to deal with court action where you agree you owe the debt. The rules on what to do when you dispute you owe all or some of the debt, are complicated. Before deciding what to do, contact us for advice
 

Replying to the letter of claim

         

Warning:

do not delay

You need to reply to the letter of claim within 30 days. If you do not reply to the creditor’s letter, they may start court action.

You need to reply to the letter of claim within 30 days using the reply form, which should be included. You can agree that you owe all of the money, some of the money or none of the money. You can also request more information if you aren’t sure.
 
If you agree that you owe the debt and have no complaint about the way that the creditor has behaved, send the creditor your completed reply form. Make sure you include your offer of payment and a copy of your completed statement of means form. The statement of means is similar to your personal

Important:

court claim

If you reply to the letter of claim but cannot come to an agreement with the creditor, they should give you at least 14 days notice that they intend to start a court claim.

The creditor should not start a court claim within either 30 days of receiving the completed reply form, or 30 days of providing you with the documents you asked for.

budget, and will allow you to provide details of your circumstances, income and expenditure, and any other debts you owe.
 
If the creditor sends you a letter of claim and you do not reply within 30 days of the date at the top of the letter, the creditor can ask the court to increase the debt. They do not have to do this and are unlikely to do so if you agree you owe the money. But if the court agrees, it can add an extra amount of interest to the debt, on top of any interest already claimed by the creditor.

Creditor takes court action 

  • Many people are frightened of courts, especially when they feel guilty because they owe money. The County Court is not there to judge anyone guilty or innocent, but to settle disputes about money owed, and how to repay it. The court is not there to serve the interests of the creditors alone.
  • If court action is taken, it is unlikely you will have to go to court. Everything is usually done by completing court forms and sending them through the post. However, if you are told by the court to pay more than you can afford, you can ask the court to reconsider your offer. You would probably then have to go to court.
  • You will receive a ‘claim form’ from the court (this used to be called a default summons). This will come through the post and tell you how much the creditor says you owe.
  • The claim form will usually include details of the debt known as the ‘particulars of claim’ but the creditor can send this separately within 14 days.
  • The creditor has to pay a fee to the court for issuing a county court claim against you. This fee is on a sliding scale depending upon how much you owe. The creditor will add this fee to your debt.
  • When you get a CCJ, interest on the debt is usually frozen automatically by the court.

See our fact sheet:

Administration orders.

  • If you have a CCJ and your debts are under £5,000 in total, you could ask the court to deal with your debts through an administration order. As part of an administration order, you can ask for some of the debt to be written off. Contact us for advice.
  • As long as you do not miss payments or pay late, no further recovery action can be taken by your creditor. So it is important to pay on time. However, even if you are up to date with the payments, your creditor may be able to secure the debt on your home by getting a 'charging order'. See the later section Enforcement. This will depend on when the CCJ was made. Contact us for advice. 

If you agree you owe the debt 

There will be a reply form with the claim form for you to make your offer of repayment. This is called the ‘admission form’ or N9A. There are instructions included on how to fill in the form. It looks like a personal budget and asks for similar information on income and essential outgoings.

Important:

make an offer of payment

It is important to make an offer of payment on the form. This is section 11 on the form. If you leave it blank the court will decide you have not made an offer. They will tell you to pay the whole debt at once ‘forthwith’ or order you to pay the monthly payments the creditor asks for. If you don’t pay what the court has ordered, the creditor has more ways to enforce the CCJ.

  • There is a section you can fill in to include the payments you make on your priority debts. This is section 8 on the form. You also have space to include any other court judgments you may have. This is section 9 on the form.  You can list all your credit debts as well. This is section 10 on the form.
  • Fill in the form and send it back to the creditor (called the claimant) at the ‘address for service’, not the court.
  • It is very important that you send the form to the ‘address for service’ at the bottom of page 2 of the claim form. This might be a solicitor’s address rather than an actual creditor.
  • There is a time limit of 14 days from the date the claim is ‘served’ on you to send back the form. When a document is ‘served’, it means that it has been delivered in the correct way. If you don’t send it back, the court will enter the judgment against you and order you to pay the whole debt in one lump sum immediately or ‘forthwith’.

Extra advice:

posting the claim form

It is a good idea to send the form recorded delivery and keep a copy.

Remember:

you can get more help

If you would like more information on filling in your court form, our advice is free and completely confidential. Contact us for advice.

 

 

Debts in joint names

Warning:

send both forms back

If you leave one form blank, or only send back one reply form, the other person may get a judgment telling them to pay the debt in one lump sum.

If your debt is in joint names, your creditor may send out separate claims forms to you and the other person who is liable for the debt. You will both need to fill in separate reply forms and make sure you put an offer of payment in the offer of payment box on each form. This is section 11 on the form.

If you have worked out offers of payment to creditors, put half of the offer on each reply form and enclose a budget summary and list of creditors. Explain what you have done in section 11 on each form. 

What happens next? 

  • If the creditor accepts your offer, you will receive a CCJ from the court telling you to pay in monthly instalments.
  • Unless the creditor has agreed first, you should not, for example, pay several instalments in advance and then miss payments. If you are asking for a payment booklet, don't delay payments because you are waiting for it to arrive.

Extra advice:

how do I pay?

You should send your payments to the creditor, not the court. Keep a record of what you have paid and when. You could ask the creditor for a payment booklet to make it easier to pay, or set up a direct debit or standing order.

  • If the creditor does not accept your offer, the court will decide (or ‘determine’) what you should pay each month.
  • If you owe under £50,000 the court staff will usually decide what you should pay without a hearing, although they can ask a District Judge to make a decision if they feel the issues are complicated. If you owe over £50,000, the District Judge decides either by looking at the papers or at a hearing in your local County Court hearing centre.
  • If you cannot afford what the court has decided you should pay, you can apply to the court to look at your offer again.  This is called a ‘re-determination’. There is no fee for this. You must do this within 14 days of getting the order. You can do this by simply writing a letter to the County Court.  Quote your case number. Attach your budget summary and explain why you disagree with the order the court has made.
  • The re-determination will be done by a District Judge.  Where an order was made by the court staff, the District Judge can decide to have a hearing or make a decision by looking at the papers. You can ask for a hearing when you write to the court and ask them to look at your case again.
  • If a District Judge made the original order without a hearing then the re-determination of your offer must be decided at a hearing.

Extra advice:

if a District Judge made the order

If a District Judge made the first order on how much you should pay at a hearing, you cannot apply for a re-determination but must apply for the monthly payments to be reduced, or 'varied'. See Reducing payments on court orders later in this fact sheet.

  • If there is a hearing, the case will automatically be transferred to your local County Court hearing centre so you can attend. The court will give you a hearing date.  You must go to the hearing which should be in the District Judge’s rooms (in private). Take a copy of your budget summary

If you dispute the debt 

If the creditor warned you that they might start court action in a letter sent before this claim, you should have replied in writing. In your letter you should have explained why you did not accept the debt and what you suggested as the way forward.

Warning:

if you think you have a defence or counterclaim

Putting in a defence or counterclaim is complicated. Contact us for advice.

If you did not reply to the creditor’s letter, you may find that the creditor has asked the court to add extra interest charges to your debt.

If you did not receive a warning letter from the creditor before court action, you could ask the court to reduce the amount that you have to pay. You can do this by asking the court to reduce either:

  • the amount of money the creditor has added for costs; or
  • the amount of interest that the creditor had added to the original debt. 

Information:

requesting more details

You may be able to request more information and documents about the claim from the creditor. This can help you with your response. Contact us for advice.

If you think this may apply to you, contact us for advice.

If you don’t agree with the amount of the debt they say you owe then you must either:

  • fill in the defence form. In this case send the form back to the court so that it arrives within 14 days of the claim being served on you; or
  • fill in the ‘acknowledgement of service’ form and tick the box to say you wish to defend all of the claim. Send the form back to the court within 14 days of it being served on you. This gives you another 14 days after that to complete your defence form and return it to the court.

If you agree you owe only part of the debt, then you have to fill in both the admission form and the defence form and send them both to the court. 

Your credit rating

If you have a CCJ, it will normally be recorded in a public register. The information will stay on the register for six years unless you pay the judgment off within one calendar month. If you pay off the judgment after one calendar month, you can ask for your entry to be marked as ‘satisfied’ if you provide proof of payment, but the CCJ will still stay on the register. This is likely to affect your ability to get credit because details about county court and high court judgments are passed on to credit reference agencies. This means that your CCJ will show up on your reports.

If you attempt to defend the court claim but are unsuccessful in doing so the CCJ will not be registered unless:

  • the court has ordered instalments to be paid; or
  • the creditor takes steps to enforce the debt.

If no CCJ has been registered you could try to negotiate an affordable payment plan directly with the creditor. This would prevent the CCJ from being registered unless the creditor applies for enforcement measures through the court.

Alternatively, you could apply to the court for a variation, which is an instalment plan approved by the court. This would prevent the creditor from being able to use any enforcement as long as you keep up with the payments, but the CCJ would be registered.

You should not defend a claim unless you have reasonable grounds to do this. If you have not got reasonable grounds, you may end up having to pay additional costs. If you are thinking about defending a claim, contact us for advice.

Reducing payments on court orders

The monthly payments you have been ordered to make may be reduced if your circumstances change or if you can’t afford them. You can apply for a reduction using form N245 which you can get from the local County Court hearing centre.  There is a fee to pay. If you are on a low income or certain benefits, you may not have to pay the fee.

If you have missed a payment because your circumstances have changed, you can use an N245 to apply for a reduction in your payments. If successful, this may stop your creditor from taking further action.

Fees

See our fact sheet:

Help with court fees.

There will usually be a fee to pay with your application.  If you are on a low income or certain benefits you may not have to pay the fee.

Enforcement

Information:

fees and costs

The creditor will have to pay a fee to County Court for applications to enforce payment. The creditor will add the fee to your debt and in some cases there may be extra court costs which they can add as well.

Your creditor may be able to take further action against you to enforce payment through the court. They can only take certain types of enforcement action if you have not paid the CCJ as the court ordered. The methods of enforcement are explained in the following sections.

Information order

Before using enforcement action, a creditor may ask you to go to a court for an interview about your income, outgoings and any assets you have, such as your house. This is called an ‘information order’. 

Warning:

go to the interview 

It is very important that you go to the interview or tell the court if you cannot go. The court can send you to prison for not cooperating with the process, so you must act if you are sent an interview date.  If you want further help on information orders, contactus for advice.

Creditors can ask the court to arrange an information order interview at any time and not just when you miss a payment.  The interview consists of a set of standard questions and you may be asked to bring things like your pay slips, outstanding bills and credit agreements to the interview.

If you are asked to go to court for an information order interview, it is a good idea to work out a personal budget before you go and take this with you.

Attachment of earnings order

The creditor can only apply for an attachment of earnings order if:
  • you are employed; and
  • you have not paid the CCJ as the court ordered.

This means that the court can order your employer to deduct a regular amount from your wages to pay back your debt.  The creditor has to make an application to the court and you will be sent a form to fill in and return to the court outlining your income and outgoings. The court then sets the amount that will be taken from your wages. You can ask the court to suspend an attachment of earnings order if your job will be affected.

Charging order

See our fact sheet:

County court – charging orders

Your creditor can ask the court to put a charge on your home which secures the debt. This means it should be paid off when the house is sold.

  • If your creditor applies for a CCJ on or after 1 October 2012, they can apply for a charging order even if you keep to the payments that the court ordered you to pay.
  • If your creditor applied for a CCJ before 1 October 2012, they can only apply for a charging order if you have not kept to the payments that the court ordered you to pay.

A charging order application is a two-stage process. If you object in time, there must be a hearing in front of a judge before it is made final. Having a final charging order does not mean you will lose your home. A further application has to be made asking the court to order a sale of your home.

Most creditors are prepared to wait for you to sell your home until some point in the future, and to be paid out of the proceeds of the sale. If a creditor does make an order for sale application, a hearing will be arranged and the court has the final decision about whether the order should be granted.

Bailiffs

See our fact sheet:

County court – stopping bailiff action.

If you have not paid your CCJ as the court ordered, the creditor can ask county court bailiffs (also known as enforcement officers) to call at your home with the aim of taking your goods. Bailiffs do not have the right to come into your home unless you have let them in before. Do not let them in. You may be able to get a bailiff’s warrant suspended using a county court form called an N245.

Third party debt order

Your creditor can instruct someone who owes you money to pay the creditor instead.  The creditor can only use this type of enforcement if you have not paid the CCJ as the court ordered.

The most likely way a third party debt order would be used is where your creditor finds out you have savings in the bank and wants your bank to pay your savings to the creditor.  It is a fairly unusual procedure which involves a hearing in front of the District Judge and a court order freezing the account. If your creditor is threatening to use this procedure, contactus for advice.

Information:

contacting the court by email

You may be able to contact the court by email. Contact the court for advice.

Information:

court forms

You can get most court forms from the HM Courts and Tribunal Service form finder, see http://tinyurl.com/hmctsforms.