How to take a claim in the civil court

Find out if the defendant is worth suing

If you are taking someone to court over money you need to make sure that they can pay you if you win. This guide outlines the things you can do to check before you go to all the bother and expense of starting legal proceedings. This guide is part of series about taking someone to the civil court to sort out a problem or disagreement. It will help for any kind of money claim case about a broken contract (often called 'breach of contract'), money owed, compensation, and personal injury, including if you were hurt in a road traffic accident.

This guide is for you if:

What is suing someone?

If you sue someone you start legal proceedings to take them to court over a civil claim. This can also be known as taking legal action, going to court, taking someone to the small claims court, or litigation. The purpose of taking someone to court is to get the court to make a decision in your favour (called ‘a judgment’) and award a remedy, usually money compensation.

  • you are starting a civil claim in either England or Wales, and
  • your case involves a claim for £25,000 or less, and
  • you are representing yourself (you are a litigant in person) and not eligible to have your case paid for by legal aid, a trade union, or insurance.

Top tip - See Should I sue someone? for useful background information on issuing a claim and An overview of the process of taking a claim in the civil court to get an overview of what a typical case might look like.

The rest of this series about sorting out a dispute by going to a civil court can be found on our Going to a civil court page.

This guide is not for you if you are involved in:

  • a case which involves a claim for more than £25,000,
  • a criminal case,
  • a family case (such as a domestic violence injunction or a divorce),
  • a housing disrepair or housing possession case including mortgage possession,
  • injunctions (including court claims about anti-social behaviour)
  • a medical accident case,
  • a case involving defamation (that is libel or slander) or
  • a tribunal case (such as a discrimination, employment or immigration case).

This guide is also for people supporting litigants in person, for example Support Through Court volunteers, Citizens Advice volunteers, and advice workers, as well as relatives and friends.

Legal language - We try to explain any legal language as we go along, but there is also a ‘What does it mean?’ section at the end.

Updated February 2024
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Can they pay you if you win

What is a money claim?

The process of taking somone to court to get a debt repaid or get some other form of financial compensation.

If you are making any kind of money claim, you need to know that your opponent - the defendant:

  • is not in any financial trouble, for example facing insolvency
  • has enough assets to pay you themselves, or
  • is insured and the insurers will cover are covering the claim,
What is a defendant

The ‘defendant’ is what the law calls your opponent - the person, company or organisation that you take court action against. Sometimes there may be more than one defendant because, for example, you think that more than just the one person, company or organisation shares responsibility for what happened to you.

Otherwise you will waste both your time and money. There is no one else out there who steps in and pays you if your opponent does not even if you win your case, unless they are insured.

So, you need to find out if your opponent has money or assets and where those assets are. This will affect your ability to make them obey a court order to pay you - this is known as enforcement.

In England and Wales you can bring enforcement proceedings through the courts. But if the defendant’s only money or assets are in Scotland or Northern Ireland it will be a more complicated process. And if their only money or assets are abroad, then you will need to think very carefully about whether it is worth starting proceedings against them. For more information see Civil procedure rule - Part 74 - Enforcement of judgments in different jurisdictions

If your opponent is bankrupt there may be little point in suing them, but it is always worth finding out more before making a decision, for example, they may still own a home.


There are some searches you can do that may help. Some are free, others are charged for.

You can:

  • find out who owns a property and whether there are any debts secured on it by searching information from the Land Registry
  • check whether someone is bankrupt by searching the bankruptcy and insolvency register
  • check if a person or company is insolvent (does not have enough money or assets to pay debts) by checking the public notices in the London Gazette.
  • ask for information about the registered keeper of a vehicle from DVLA
  • check if a vehicle is stolen, written off or on finance at HPI Check
  • check whether a business or an individual has been fined or had court orders made against them at Trust Online
  • find information about a company and their accounts from Companies House
  • find information about a registered charity and their accounts from the Charity Commission
  • carry out an internet search or check other media to find out useful information about your opponent.

Enquiry agents

Lawyers sometimes uses enquiry agents to investigate whether it is worth starting legal proceedings against someone. Enquiry agents can provide a report about someone’s financial status. Typically, this will give you information about whether they are a homeowner or a tenant, whether they are bankrupt or have court orders against their name and their employment details. You may want to consider this option but check the cost before you go ahead. Some enquiry agents offer this service at a fixed cost - others charge an hourly rate.

You can find an enquiry agent through the Association of British Investigators or the Institute of Professional Investigators.

Insolvent defendants

When dealing with a company, you might be presented with a situation where the company has become insolvent. This could have wide ranging implications for any claims you might have against that company.

If a company, against whom you believe you have a claim, becomes insolvent the first thing to do is to identify whether they could or should have been insured for the actions which caused you to suffer loss. If the company was insured, you might be able to bring a claim against their insurer directly, however this is a complicated legal point and you should certainly get legal advice before starting down this route.

Next steps

If your opponent is insured or has enough assets to pay you if you win, you might want to take the next step in bringing a claim. See our other guides in this series to help you through the process.

You might want to try alternative dispute resolution (ADR) for a different approach, perhaps to get an apology or a promise that it won’t happen to anyone else. See Sort out your legal problem before or instead of going to court.

Ultimately, you may decide to do nothing knowing that you have considered your options carefully and this is the best course of action for you.

What does it mean?

Alternative dispute resolution (ADR) – a range of options for resolving disputes, often without going to court.

Assets - money and savings and other valuable items which can be used to pay debts, for example, a house, flat, jewellery or car.

Bankruptcy – is a legal process which ends someone’s liability for debts after a certain period of time, usually a year.

Bringing a claim – starting a court process to bring a legal claim, also called taking someone to court or issuing proceedings.

Civil court – a court, usually a county court, where you can bring a claim for damages (financial compensation) against someone who has wrongly caused you loss, damage or injury.

Defendant - person or organisation the case is brought against.

Enforcement proceedings – legal proceedings to try to force someone to obey a court order, for example to pay you or return something belonging to you.

Enquiry agent – a person or business who can be hired to find someone or to find things out about someone, for example, if they have assets.

Fast track – A route through the civil justice system that the court can transfer your case to. The fast track is for claims with a value of between £10,000 and £25,000, or personal injury where the personal injury element of the claim is worth over £1,000 but the entire claim is worth under £25,000. You might also hear about the intermediate track and the multi-track. But those are for claims over £25,000 and are not covered in this guide.

Housing disrepair case – a type of legal case where you take your landlord to court for failing to repair a problem in your rented property.

Injunctions - An injunction is a court order that requires someone to do or not do something.

Insolvent – when a person or company cannot pay its debts.

Judgement – the court’s decision.

Legal proceedings – taking someone to court. This can also be known as taking legal action, going to court, or litigation.

Litigant in person – a person bringing or defending a claim without a solicitor or barrister.

Money claim – The process of taking someone to court to get a debt repaid or get some other form of financial compensation.

Small claim – Now known as court claims or money claims these are usually simple claims, up to the value of £10,000.

Suing - If you sue someone you start a court process to bring a legal claim against them. This can also be known as taking legal action, bringing a claim, bringing a civil claim, going to court, starting legal proceedings or litigation. The purpose of taking someone to court in this way is to get the court to make a decision in your favour (called ‘a judgement’) and award a remedy, usually money compensation.

About this guide


The information in this guide applies to England and Wales only. The law may be different if you live in Scotland or Northern Ireland. The law is complicated. We have simplified things in this guide. Please don’t rely on this guide as a complete statement of the law. We recommend you try and get advice from the sources we have suggested.

The cases we refer to are not always real but show a typical situation. We have included them to help you think about how to deal with your own situation.


This guide was produced by Law for Life's Advicenow project. We would like to thank everyone who has commented or helped with the guide inlcuding editorital teams at Thomson Reuters who kindly reviewed this updated version. This guide was updated thanks to funding from the Ministry of Justice.  

If we’ve helped you, please help us

Please tell us about your problem. Knowing more about our users and what you found useful helps us get funding to keep our website going. We also want to hear if there is anything you didn’t like or couldn’t find so that we can be even more useful. It is OK to skip questions – but please press ‘submit’ at the end as otherwise we don’t get your response.

Updated March 2024

1 Reviews

Really pleased i was signposted to this guide

Obvious now i know it, but hadn't understood that you could win a case against someone and still not get paid.
JezD on the 15 / 04 / 2024

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