Being owed money by an individual or company is hugely frustrating, especially if they’re actively ignoring your requests for payment or making promises they’ll never keep.
In these circumstances, it can feel like there’s nothing you can do. After all, you can’t just take the money by force, and if the debtor is someone you’re close to, you may feel awkward commencing court proceedings against them.
There comes a time, though, where enough is enough and you need to take action to recover what you’re owed. If you’re at that point, these are the legal steps you can take.
What is the Debt Worth?
Before we look at how you can recover debt from an individual, you need to take a moment to reflect on what the debt is worth to you. The reason for this is because the harder the debt is to recover, the more it’s going to cost you to do so.
So, you need to decide how much you’re willing to spend. Clearly, if the debt is only worth a few hundred pounds, it’s not worth spending thousands in legal fees to recover it.
While this may seem obvious, it’s often quickly forgotten when emotions boil over, and there’s a long history of people spending thousands to pursue disputes that simply weren’t worth it.
Send a Letter
It goes without saying that the first thing you should do when someone owes you money is to contact them and request that the money is repaid. However, since you’re reading this blog, we’re going to assume you’ve already tried this approach and not found success.
If the debtor is someone you know closely, it’s possible that they don’t appreciate how serious you are. Regardless of how well you know them, if informal attempts to agree repayments are unsuccessful, it’s time to send a letter.
While you may have already had multiple conversations, sending a letter outlining the specifics of the debt, is a great line in the sand and leaves no room for misinterpretation. You should include:
- How much they owe you;
- What they owe you for;
- Who is involved in the debt (the name and address of you and the debtor at the least);
- Dated copies of any paperwork related to the debt;
- A summary of what you have already done to try and recover the debt and any related communications;
- A date by which you expect payment (ensure you give them at least seven days);
- A request that they respond in writing with any issue or dispute they have with your statement;
- Details of the next steps you’ll take if the debt isn’t paid;*
*When it comes to your next steps, don’t include any threats of legal action unless you’re willing to back them up. The next steps you should include will depend entirely on your individual circumstances, so ensure you seek professional advice from a solicitor.
As you can tell, the letter you send should be clear, detailed and professionally written. This way, your debtor knows exactly what is expected of them and what the potential consequences are.
Look for Help
It’s possible that you’ve just looked at the letter you should send and found it a little overwhelming. This is pretty ordinary, as the process of recovering a debt can be complex.
If you’re not familiar with the law, you should consider seeking professional support if you want to give yourself the best chance of recovering the debt. When it comes to finding this help, you have a few options.
Using a solicitor early can be a great way of showing you are serious about recovering your debt. They can write the letter we discussed on your behalf and advise you on the practicalities of how likely you are to recover the debt and by when.
While the aim should always be to avoid court, if you think there’s a chance your claim may end up there, it’s always wise to involve a solicitor as early as possible so your case is as legally strong as it can be.
If negotiations with the debtor break down, a good way to reinvigorate them is by using a mediator. Through mediation, both parties are brought together alongside a neutral third party.
This third party can then provide an outside perspective on the dispute and recommend resolutions without the need for court action. You can even use a mediator who is legally qualified and can provide information on the law where necessary.
Debt Recovery Agency
Depending on the nature of the debt owed to you, you may consider using a debt recovery agency, although this is not always the best choice in the early stages of recovering a debt.
Debt recovery agencies send a strong message, but such a blunt tactic can severely damage relationships with friends or clients. Also, debt recovery agencies usually need a court order to act, so you’re more than likely going to need a solicitor anyway.
Recover Debt in Court
Court action should only be considered as a last resort, but if communication has broken down and mediation has failed, it can provide closure to the matter.
If you’re at the point of considering court action and haven’t already spoken to a solicitor, ensure you do so as soon as possible. You’ve already seen the detail and precision that needs to be applied to your first letter and the same standard is required across your entire court case.
Even if your claim isn’t worth what it would cost to hire a solicitor, taking the time to run your case past an experienced eye is important for predicting how likely you are to be successful.
The size of the debt will impact which court it will be heard in. Claims under £100,000 are generally heard in County Court, while claims above £100,000 are heard in the High Court.
In order to commence court proceedings, you’ll need to submit a Claim Form, along with the Particulars of Claim, and pay the court fee. A copy of the form and particulars will then be sent to the defendant, along with a Response Pack detailing their options.
At this point, the defendant will take one of the following actions:
- File an admission indicating they admit the debt;
- File a defence detailing the legal basis on which they intend to contest your claim;
- File an acknowledgement of service, indicating they intend to defend all or part of the claim and giving them an additional 14 days to file a defence;
- Not take any action, in which case you can apply to the court for a default judgement;
Assuming the defendant contests the claim, a date will need to be set for the court to hear both arguments. If you win, you’ll then be awarded costs.
Recovering debt from an individual in the UK can be a complex and drawn-out process, especially if your claim needs to go to court.
When something requires so much time and attention, it’s important to give yourself the best chance of success, which is why seeking the advice of a solicitor is vital.
If you have a debt that needs to be recovered, speak to the Glaisyers team to find out how we can help you.Back
David is a Partner and head of the Litigation team. He is consistently ranked in the Legal 500 for his tenacious problem solving and business acumen, acting in complex, high value disputes for successful entrepreneurs and corporates.
David Jones - Partner
To discuss how Glaisyers can assist you contact David Jones on David.Jones@glaisyers.com or via 0161 832 4666.