Small claims guide

Court should be a last resort

The courts would prefer that you do everything you can to settle the dispute before starting a claim.

You should therefore consider looking for an alternative way of resolving the dispute. Also, the courts prefer you to follow any relevant pre-action protocol. These were listed in the previous section. If there is no specific pre-action protocol that is relevant to your claim you should follow the default one (described later).

It is possible that if you ignore this, you might be not recover all your costs or might be required to pay the other side's costs.

Alternatives to going to court

The courts suggest a number of alternatives to court action:

You can contact the other person directly and try to negotiate a settlement. The fact that you are considering or have started a claim doesn't stop you doing this. If you do negtiate you might want to ensure that any offers you make are made 'without prejudice'.
If you are making a claim against a utility company it might be better to contact the regulator for that sector.
In some situations there might be an approriate ombudsman that the parties can use.
You could attempt to find an independent mediator. They would offer a vountary settlement to the parties.
Or someone to act as an arbitrator. The outcome would then be binding on both sides.

pre-action protocols

Some kinds of claims have their own specific pre-action protocols listed here. If none of these apply the courts offer suggested guidance on what to do pre-action. However there is no specific requirement to do this for a simple debt claim where there is no dispute that the money is owed.

The advice is set out in Annex A of the pre-action conduct Practice Direction which makes up part of the Civil Procedures Rules.

This states that the claimant should write a letter before claim and that the defendant should reply or at least acknowledge this letter within 14 days.

final letter

Even if your claim is for a simple undisputed debt, it is normal to write to the debtor one last time.

Most businesses will make this letter the last part of their normal credit control process.

This letter may be useful as evidence if you have to take legal action. A copy of it will be useful to show that you have attempted to resolve the dispute before going to court. It also serves to show that they were warned that legal action would follow if they failed to pay.

This letter is usually referred to as a 'letter before action'.

letter before action

A 'letter before action' should usually be fairly short and to the point. The letter should state:

Your name and address will probably be on your stationery. If, for whatever reason, the payment name or the payment address is different state this clearly in the letter.

example letter before action

There are a few other things you might put into this letter. You might mention that previous reminder letters, invoices, copy invoices or statements have been sent or ignored. You might include copies of the outstanding invoice(s). This will at least prevent the debtor from using the excuse that they have lost an invoice.

It is probably a good idea to insist that if they want to dispute the invoice that they should do so in writing.

Example letter in:

Making a claim

For most claims you can start a claim either online or by filling in and printing the N1 form.

There are several exceptions or special cases. The online service is limited to money claims, and they must be below 100,000. Also you cannot use the online service if there are more than two defendants, or the defendants are not at an address in England or Wales.

It is also not suitable if you are exempt from paying court fees, or if you are under 18. Also do not use for personal injury claims.

In addition, the online service may not be used if the defendant is under 18, or lacks 'mental capacity'.


Go to If you have not used the service before you will need to register. You will need to pay the court fee using a credit or debit card.

paper filing

The following applies if you are making a claim for money. A claim for some other remedy is dealt with differently - and is not explained here.

You fill in the N1 Claim Form. A step-by-step guide is here. This form is in PDF format and can be filled in on your computer and then printed out. Or you can print the blank form and complete it by hand (use black ink and write in capitals).

Once you have completed the form you should print or photocopy as many copies as required (one for each defendant, plus your own copy). You should then make up an envelope containing:

The cheque should be made payable to 'H M Courts & Tribunals Service'. The amount is dependent on the amount of the claim, and is set out in EX50 County court fees leaflet. The entire package should be posted to:

County Court Money Claims Centre,
PO Box 527,
M5 0BY.

unless the claim is being made in the High Court. In which case you should send the paperwork to the relevant section of the High Court.

Site menu

Disclaimer: This site is entirely free. It is not part of the Court Service and you use the information provided at your own risk.