Late payments are a common problem for Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) where it can create cash flow problems, stifle business growth and be the difference between insolvency and profitability.
According to BACS, late payments cost UK SMEs over £6.7 billion annually. Prevention is always better than cure, but when faced with late payments you need to know how to enforce your legal rights.
But do you need to engage a solicitor or lawyer to make a claim? Or can you do-it-yourself?
Try an informal process first
You don’t always need to go to court to enforce a debt. Most situations typically don’t end up in court if the amount is small enough or if the case isn’t worth the effort. You could consider sending a Debt Reminder Letter in the first instance to remind the debtor that they owe you money.
You could even try and use Mediation or Alternative Dispute Resolution to resolve the issue. These methods provide individuals and businesses with a low-cost method of resolving a legal dispute without the need to go to court. There is usually a fixed hourly fee to pay by both parties.
What if the informal process doesn’t work?
Then this is where the main part of this blog comes in. It’s inevitable that some cases will have to go to court for judgment.
The ‘Small Claims Court’ which is part of the County Court is specifically set up to deal with small or minor claims (ie the value of the claim is under £10,000). It is designed to be simple so that a lay-person (someone who is not legally qualified) can use the system.
If you decide to proceed with making a claim then you need to gather all your evidence (such as contracts or unpaid invoices) and send the debtor a Letter Before Action. The Letter Before Action is a mandatory letter that complies with the procedural rules before you can submit a claim. Without sending this letter, you may jeopardise your case if it does end up in court. All the necessary evidence must be provided to the other party with the letter even if they have the facts already.
Usually after 14 days, if the debtor doesn’t respond, then you can proceed to submitting a claim to the Small Claims Court.
You can either fill in the claim form online or download and print it. The form is known as a Claim Form N1. You then send the completed form to the County Court Money Claims Centre in Salford and pay the court fee.
There is a small fee to file a claim and the amount depends on the amount of money you are owed and therefore claiming for. The fees start at £25. You can see the full fee structure on the Gov.uk website.
What happens after I submit a claim form?
What happens next depends on whether the debtor agrees to pay the amount or decides to defend the claim. The debtor has 14 days to respond, after which time, if there is no response you may decide to issue a county court judgment (CCJ).
Many individuals and businesses don’t want a CCJ against their name as all CCJs are on the public record and can affect any credit search made against the debtor’s name.
But if the debtor does defend the claim, then it’s likely that the case will get a hearing in court and will most likely incur further costs.
Even if you get a judgment in your favour, the debtor may still choose to ignore it and not pay – in which case you’ll need to consider enforcing the CCJ – for example, engaging the services of a bailiff to seize property to cover the amount you are owed. For further information read Court orders and enforcement.
So, do you need a solicitor to make a money claim?
This entire process can be done without the help of a solicitor. But if you do feel you need a bit of extra advice or support then you can use Rocket Lawyer’s Ask a lawyer service.
For further information read Rocket Lawyer’s guidance on Debt recovery.