How to take a claim in the civil court

How to start a civil claim

This guide will help you to understand how to start your claim if you have decided to take someone to court. This is also sometimes called suing someone, or starting legal proceedings. This guide looks at who can use the new online court services, and how you start a claim using the N1 form. It covers cases about broken contracts, money owed, compensation, and personal injury - including road traffic accidents and accidents at work. You might use it to take someone to the small claims court, or use the fast-track process in a county court.

Extended guide for £6 - Newly updated

  • Shows you how to use the new online court services, and how you start a claim using the N1 form for those that have to.
  • Explains what you can claim for, how to value your claim, and how to avoid common pitfalls
  • Shows you how to complete a schedule of loss and how to set out the particulars of claim
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Read the standard version of the guide for free online

The standard guide explains who can use the different online court processes and who still has to complete the N1 claim form.  It also explains what to put together to send with the N1, what to do if you want to stop the claim once you have started it, what you have to do next, what happens if the defendent does or doesn't reply, and explains all the legal language that you may come across.


This guide is for you if:

  • you have decided to start a court claim against an individual or an organisation 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
  • you are not eligible to have your case paid for by legal aid, a trade union, or insurance.

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

    This guide focuses on standard practice – what happens when a claim is well-prepared and issued in good time. There are special rules dealing with situations where you don’t or can’t follow standard practice for whatever reason. For example, you think you’re ready to start a civil claim but you haven’t got your defendant’s address, or your defendant lives abroad. We cover some of these briefly but you will probably need specialist advice to help you work out what to do in your particular situation.

    It will not help you if your case is:

    • a criminal case,
    • a family case (such as an application for a domestic violence injunction or a divorce – see Going to the family court instead),
    • a housing disrepair or housing possession case including mortgage possession (go to Help with housing problems instead),
    • an injunction (including court claims about anti-social behaviour)
    • a medical accident case,
    • a case involving defamation (libel or slander) or
    • a tribunal case (such as a discrimination or employment case –  see Going to a tribunal instead).

    If you are considering making a claim about injuries caused by a car accident claim that happened on or after 31st May 2021 please ensure you read How to make a small claim about injuries caused by a car accident first. That takes you through all the steps you must take before you start legal proceedings (what lawyers call the pre-action protocol). 

    Top tips -Do not start a court case before reading Should I sue someone? That free guide helps you work out if you have all the things you will need for your claim to be successful, it also helps you work out what amount to ask for in your claim.

    Have a look at An overview of the process of taking a claim in the civil court to get an idea of what a typical case might look like and How to take a claim in the civil court - at a glance which helps you work out which court will deal with your case and what you will have to do. 

    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.

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    Updated January 2024

    Starting your claim

    If you are considering making a claim about injuries caused by a car accident that happened on or after 31st May 2021 please ensure you read How to make a small claim about injuries caused by a car accident first.

    There are different ways to start your claim. You can now start lots of claims online, in particular if someone owes you a fixed sum of money.

    For many people the new online process is easier as it was designed to be used by people who do not have a solicitor. Cases using the online system are also frequently resolved faster and sometimes the court fees are slightly lower.

    You do not need to use the online system if you don’t want to. If you don’t feel confident or comfortable dealing with things online, it might be better for you to use the paper system. You don’t want extra things to worry about.

    1) Money Claims

    In order to know which service to use you need to know the rough value of your claim. There is information about valuing your claim in another guide in this series: Should I sue someone?

    This is a new digital service that is designed to be used by people who do not have a solicitor to help them (often called Litigants in Person). You can use it to make a claim of up to £10,000 or less (these are called ‘small claims’) or respond to a claim started by someone else. You cannot use it if your claim is about anything other than money. 

    In order to know which service to use you need to know the rough value of your claim. There is information about how to value your claim in Should I sue someone?

    You cannot use this service:

    • if you are under 18, or don’t have an address in the UK
    • if you are eligible for legal aid,
    • to make a claim against more than one person or organisation
    •  to make a personal injury claim
    • to bring a claim against a government department/agency,
    • to get your tenancy deposit back from your landlord,
    • to make a claim against a person or organisation based outside England and Wales,
    • to make a claim in Welsh, or
    • to bring a claim against someone without mental capacity or under 18.

    At the time of writing you cannot use this service to deal with disputes about a tenancy agreement, but it is expected to expand to cover this area by 2024.

    You will need:

    ●        a debit or credit card to pay the court fees (unless you are entitled to Help paying your court fee that pays your entire fee),

    ●        an address in the UK, and

    ●        an email address and regular access to a computer and the internet.

    You can use this system if you are entitled to help with paying your court fees but you must apply for that help online (Make a claim shows you how to do this). Make sure you keep your reference number for the Help with fees application safe as you will need it before your claim can be officially started.

    As part of the Money Claim service, both sides are offered free telephone mediation to help you come to an agreed solution(the defendant is offered it first and if they agree, the claimant is asked to agree). In this kind of mediation, a trained mediator speaks to both sides separately over the phone and helps them to come to a legally binding agreement (which often includes a payment plan). 

    If you are able to come to an agreement using mediation, the case will be over (and you might receive your money) much more quickly, and neither side will have to pay a hearing fee. You will usually speak to a mediator within 2-3 weeks, and are likely to have to wait 30 weeks for a court date.

    At the time of writing, you don't have to use mediation - you can choose not to use the service. But the Government has announced that mediation in small claims will become a mandatory part of the process.

    You can find out more about it and start your claim at Make a court claim for money.

    2) Money Claim Online (MCOL)

    This is another online service run by HM Courts & Tribunals service. It was not originally designed to be used by people who don’t have a solicitor to help them (although you can) and as a result is less user friendly. 

    You can use Money Claim Online to start your claim:

    • if you know the exact amount you are claiming (which excludes all personal injury cases) and that amount is under £100,000
    • if there are two defendants or less, and
    • if your claim is against a person or organisation with an address in England or Wales.

    The same exclusions apply as for the Money Claim described above. Money Claims Online is therefore most useful if you are claiming an amount that is over the £10,000 upper limit you can use Money Claims for.

    You will need:

    • a debit or credit card to pay the court fees,
    • an address in the UK, and
    • an email address and regular access to a computer and the internet.

    You can find out more about this service at Money Claim Online.

    The Money Claims Online process is like the N1 paper form. Follow the guidance in Completing the N1 paper claim form below.

    One of the advantages of the Money Claims Online process over the paper form is that it automatically includes a claim for the court fee you will have to pay to start the case, and asks if you want to claim interest on the amount - although you have to calculate the amount of interest yourself.

      Forms and rules

      You can find guidance about Money Claim Online (MCOL) at Practice direction 7C - Money Claim Online

      3 - Claim by post using an N1 paper form

      Lots of people still use the paper form to start their claim. Currently, it is the only way you can make a claim for personal injury.  

      To start your claim you will need to complete an N1 claim form, attach the necessary documents and the court fee (or an application for Help with Fees) and send it to the right court. You can find English, Welsh and large print versions of form N1 together with notes (N1A) explaining how to complete this form at GOV.UK. 

      Forms and rules

      Part 7 - How to start proceedings – the claim form

      Practice direction 7A - How to start proceedings

      The rest of the guide takes you through the two main systems you will likely use – Money Claims and the N1 paper form. If you are using Money Claim Online, follow the advice in Completing the N1 paper claim form. 

      Using Money Claims

      If you need support to use digital services

      If you would like to use Money claims but need support to do so you can get help from We Are Group. For example, they can help if you do not have access to a computer or smart phone, if you don’t have internet access, or if you do not feel confident about how to use the online forms. Depending on what help you need, they can either help you over the phone, online via video call, or face-to-face at a centre near you.

      If you would like their help, you can

      This service is also called Online Civil Money Claims (OCMC) by lawyers and the courts. It is easy to use but be careful as it is easy to make a mistake. If you make a mistake about who your claim is against or what your claim is for, you may lose your case, miss out on money you could have claimed, or have to pay a fee again. Read Should I sue someone? and Who to sue? to avoid making these mistakes. 

      The first few screens of the Money Claims just check if you are able to use the service for the kind of case that you have. Then you have to create an account (unless you have been involved in other cases using the system before, or have applied for either a divorce or probate online).  

      Next, you get to your claim overview screen. It includes a section which explains that you should not start a case unless or until you have tried other methods to resolve the problem. You can progress these in your own time.

      Please buy the extended guide to read all our guidance, including what amounts you can claim for, how to provide the 'claim detaIls (including an example).

      Completing the N1 paper claim form

      You might want to claim using the paper form because you are not comfortable with computers, don’t have an email address, or are making a type of claim not yet possible to do using the online service.

      The claim form is a very important document. If you make a mistake on the form, you claim may fail, or you may have to pay an additional fee to correct the mistake.

      If you are claiming for personal injury and relying on the evidence of a medical practitioner you will need to attach a medical report about your injuries to your claim form. You must also attach a schedule of loss listing your losses and any future expenses you are claiming (explained below).

      We explain what to include in key sections of form N1 below.

      The relevant rules about what to include in or with your N1 claim form are 

      Part 16 - Statements of case

      Practice Direction 16 - Statements of case

      The defendant

      It is important to get things like the details of who you are claiming against correct. Please read Who to sue? for advice about identifying the right defendant to take your claim against and how to find the correct address for them. Make sure you have their name exactly right. This can be particularly tricky if it is an organisation you are taking a claim against.

      Valuing an injury
      To value an injury, you will need to get a medical report which sets out the details of the injury (or injuries) and the prognosis (when and to what extent you will make a recovery).

      The notes for guidance (N1A) include some help on how to word what you might want to say about the value of your claim.

      Please read our Extended guide for examples of a Schedule of loss, Particulars of claim, advice on what to include, what to do about claiming interest, and serving the claim on the defendant.

      Where to send your claim

      If you want your claim dealt with by the county court and your claim is just for money (this includes claims for compensation for personal injury) then you must send it to the:

      Civil National Business Centre
      St Katharine’s House
      21-27 St Katharine’s Street
      NN1 2LH

      In these cases, you enter ‘In the Civil National Business Centre’ in the heading on the form (or you can abbreviate to CNBC).If your claim is for anything other than money, then you should send it to your local court office. See Things you need to know about court procedure before you sue for more information about how to find your local court.

      Checklist – what you need to put together to post to the court

      ●        N1

      ●        Particulars of claim (if separate)

      ●        Medical report (if claiming for personal injury)

      ●        Schedule of loss (if claiming for losses and expenses)

      ●        Cheque for the court fee, or application for Help with Fees if eligible, or both, and

      ●        A complete set of copies for each defendant

      When you post the documents to the court, it is worth getting a certificate of posting from the post office. Then, if necessary, you can prove when you posted them.

      You will know whether you have started your claim successfully when the court sends you a Notice of Issue.

      Stopping a claim

      If you regret starting the claim or the problem is resolved another way, you can stop the claim at any time. You do this by sending a completed ‘notice of discontinuance’ (Form N279) to the court and formally delivering a copy to every side in the case. But you will be responsible for everyone’s legal costs up until the date you give them this notice, unless you can convince the court that you don’t have to pay. This is not easy to do. Try contacting your opponent before you complete the 'notice of discontinuance' and ask them to agree that they will not claim for their costs if you stop your claim. You never know, you might get lucky.

      If your case has been allocated to the small claims track before you stop the claim, then usually you will only have to pay your own legal costs and not everyone else’s as well.

      After you have successfully issued your claim

      The paper service

      The court sends a copy of your Claim Form (and the Particulars of Claim if they are in a separate document and any other documents) to the defendant as well as some notes to help the defendant decide what to do about it. Notes for defendent on replying to the claim form (N1C) are helpful. Welsh and large print version are also available. 

      The defendant also gets sent a response pack (Form N9). The response pack explains what to do next and includes the forms the defendant needs. If your Claim Form includes the Particulars of Claim then this pack is sent at the same time as your Claim Form. If you deliver your Particulars of Claim separately, you must send the response pack to the defendent at the same time. 

      Money Claim service

      If you have supplied an email address for the defendant, they will be told that a legal claim has been started against them and will receive a copy of the claim form straight away. A copy is also sent to them in the post.

      The defendant then has the choice of whether to use the online service, Respond to court claim for money, or on paper as above.

      If the defendant needs a bit more time to respond, they can ask for an additional 14 days. They do not need to have reason.

      When the defendant responds, they will be offered free mediation to resolve the issue. If they agree to try mediation, you will be asked if you are willing to try it too.

      Time limits for suing someone

      Keep an eye on the deadline for starting your claim. For information about time limits see another guide in this series Time limits for suing someone.

      If it becomes necessary to start court proceedings because otherwise you would miss the deadline, you can ask the court for an order to suspend the proceedings until you have followed the steps you were supposed to take before starting the case. These are set out in the 'pre-action protocol' that applies to your case and/or the main rules about court conduct. See Things you need to know about court procedure before you sue for more information about the actions you must take before starting a court case. You may hear lawyers and court staff talk about a ‘stay’ - this also means suspending court proceedings.

      If you are making a claim about injuries caused by a car accident that happened on or after 31st May 2021 please ensure you read How to make a small claim about injuries caused by a car accident as that explains the relevant timelimits and pre-action protocols.

      If the defendant does not respond

      If the defendant has not responded to your claim within the time limit set by the court you can ask the court to decide the case anyway. The law calls this applying for ‘judgment in default’.

      They are likely to receive a County Court Judgement (CCJ) against them which will harm their credit rating for a long time.

      If they agree that they owe the money they should still respond to your claim. If they do so, they can suggest a payment plan or another way of sorting out the situation (for example, if the claim is about unfinished building work, the defendant could offer to complete the building work). It is still possible to settle the claim out of court.

      After you make a your claim explains how to ask for a judgment if the person you have made a claim against does not respond to your claim. 

      Forms and rules

      Relevant rule:Part 15 - Defence and reply

      If the defendant does respond

      In responding to your claim, the defendant will either:

      ●        admit (accept) they owe you the amount of money claimed,

      ●        admit part of the claim (which means agree that they owe you some of the money claimed, but disagree with the rest)

      ●        reject all of your claim (which means they disagree that they owe you any more money ).

      If they accept that they owe you money (either all of the amount claimed, or part of it) they are asked to pay the full amount within 5 days and if they do not, you can ask for a County Court Judgement (CCJ) to be made against them. Having a CCJ will hurt their credit rating and will make it harder to get loans, a mobile phone contract, or a mortgage.

      They can however ask if you will accept payment by a set date or allow them to pay in installments.

      If they don’t accept that they owe all or some of the money you claimed, you should read their defence carefully, as you may need to reassess the strength and value of your claim in light of what they say.

      If they believe that they also lost out, and that you owe therefore them money, they may also begin a counter-claim (a claim against you).

      What does it mean?

      Brief details of claim - a concise statement of the nature of your claim and the remedy you want, for example a payment of money.

      Claim form – the form you use to start your claim.

      Claim Notification Form – the form you use to notify the other side of your claim.

      Discontinuance – ending the case before the trial.

      Expert evidence - this is evidence of an expert’s opinion, of what they think or believe about something.

      General damages – the amount awarded for the injury itself.

      Issue proceedings – the official start of the court case

      Liability - proving that the problem is legally the defendant’s fault (they breached your legal rights or breached a contract with you).

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

      Loss of amenity – means not being able to do the things including leisure activities which you would normally do. The award covers physical and mental injury.

      Low value personal injury claims – these are claims where the personal injury element of the claim is worth over £1,000 and the overall value of the claim is worth under £25,000.

      Money claim – the online HMCTS service that you can use to issue claims for a fixed amount of money (currently only for claims under £10,000 unless both sides are represented). Its is also called Online Civil Money Claims (OCMC).  

      Money claim online (MCOL) – the online service that can be used to start a claim for a specific amount of money up to £10,000.

      Medical report – a report from a recognised medical practitioner prepared in support of your claim for compensation for personal injury.

      Notice of discontinuance – the form you use to tell the court that you want to stop (discontinue) your claim.

      Notice of Issue – this tells you that your claim has started and the date it began. It also tells you the case number, the date of service, the method of service and the defendant’s deadline for responding.

      Pain – how much it hurts.

      Particulars of Claim – a concise written statement of the facts and law on which your claim is based and what you want from the defendant.

      Remedy –  what the court can order to rectify the problem, usually money compensation.

      Respond to a money claim – the online HMCTS service that you can use to respond to a money claim started using Make a money claim. 

      Response pack (Form N9) – this explains what the defendant has to do after they receive a claim form and includes the forms the defendant may need.

      Schedule of loss – a document listing the losses and expenses you’ve had as a result of the defendant’s conduct.

      Service/Serving documents – the formal delivery of court documents to others involved in the case so that they can respond. There are lots of special rules about how and when it must be done. If you make a mistake or do not do it within the deadline, it may end your case.

      Special damages - past and future expenses and losses, for example loss of earnings, travel costs, help with childcare.

      Suffering – mental anguish which doesn’t amount to a mental illness.

      Quantum – the amount of compensation your claim is worth.

      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 Advicenow project. We would like to thank everyone who provided feedback on the guide and especially and including editorial teams at Thomson Reuters who kindly peer reviewed this updated version. 

      This guide was updated thanks to funding from the Ministry of Justice. 

      January 2024

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      Buy the extended version to find out what you can claim for in different types of cases, and how to complete a schedule of loss (with example), set out the particulars of claim (with example), and claim interest on the money you are owed.

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