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 have decided to take someone to court. This is also sometimes called suing someone, or starting legal proceedings. It looks at who can use the new online court services, and how you start a claim using the N1 form. It explains what you can claim for in different types of cases, and how to complete a schedule of loss, set out the particulars of claim, and claim interest on the money you are owed. It also explains how to serve the papers on the defendant and what to do if they do or don’t respond. It covers cases about broken contracts (often called ‘breach of contract’), 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. It is part of our series about taking someone to court to sort out a problem or disagreement.

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
How to start a civil claim - Digital guide

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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.

Introduction

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.

    It will not help you if your case is:

    Top tip – 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 .

    • 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). 

    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.

    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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    April 2022

    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) Make a money claim

    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.)

    This service is expected to expand to include claims for higher amounts. At the time of writing it is expected that this service will deal with claims of up to £25,000 by the beginning of 2023. There may well be other changes. If you are keen to use the online service, do check if you can use it for your claim at Make a money claim.

    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 2023.

    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 money 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 issued (officially started).

    As part of the Make a 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). 

    You don't have to use mediation - you can choose not to use the service. But if you are able to come to an agreement using mediation, you will receive your money more quickly and neither side will have to pay a hearing fee. 

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

    2) Money Claim Online (MCOL)

    This is another online service run by HM Courts & Tribunals service. It is not 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 to litigants in person.

    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 Make a money claim described above. Money Claim Online is therefore most useful if you are claiming an amount that is over the £10,000 upper limit you can use Make a money claim 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.

    The expectation is that as Make a money claim expands to include claims for higher amounts of money, increasing numbers of people will use that service and fewer people will use Money Claim Online. (Make a money claim is expected to deal with claims of up to £25,000 by the beginning of 2023).

    The Money Claim 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 Claim 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 7E - 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.  

      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 to start your claim. You can find English, Welsh and large print versions of form N1 together with notes (N1A) explaining how to complete this form at Form N1: Make a claim against a person or organisation (Claim form CPR Part 7) 

      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 – Make a money claim and the N1 paper form. If you are using Money Claim Online, follow the advice in Completing the N1 paper claim form. Buy the extended guide for all the guidance.

      Using Make a money claim

      If you need support to use digital services

      If you would like to use Make a money claim but need support to do so you can get help from We Are Digital. 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 system 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. HMCTS are going to create a ‘case builder’ tool to help address some of these difficulties at some point, but until then you definitely need to read this guide.

      The first few screens of Make a money claim 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. This shows you all the things you have to complete to start your claim. 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 and

      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:

      County Court Money Claims Centre
      PO Box 527
      Salford
      M5 0BY

      In these cases, you enter ‘In the County Court Money Claims Centre’ in the heading on the form (or you can abbreviate to CCMCC).

      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 issue is resolved another way, you can stop the claim at any time. You do this by filing a ‘notice of discontinuance’ (Form N279) at the court and serving a copy on every party to the case. But you will be responsible for everyone’s legal costs up until the date you serve 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 file the notice and ask them to agree that they will not claim for their costs if you discontinue your claim. You never know, you might get lucky.

      If your case has been allocated to the small claims track before you file the notice of discontinuance, 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 the claim. Those notes are available on the Form N1 page of GOV.UK.  Welsh and large print versions 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 file and serve your Particulars of Claim separately then the response pack will be sent to the defendant then.

      Make a money claim

      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 a money claim, 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.  The expectation is that they will accept this offer and if they do, you (the claimant) will be asked if you accept 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. These will be set out in the pre-action protocol that applies to your case and/or the main rules about court conduct. See Before you sue - things you need to know about court procedure for more information about court protocols. 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.

      Court leaflet EX304 explains what to do if the person you have made a claim against does not respond to your claim. You can find English, Welsh and large print versions at

      Forms and rules

      Relevant rule: 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 disagrees 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 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.

      For information about what happens next, see court leaflet EX304It’s available in English, Welsh and large print.

      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.

      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.

      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.

      Make a 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). 

      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.

      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

      Disclaimer

      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.

      Acknowledgements

      This guide was produced by Law for Life Advicenow project. We would like to thank everyone who provided feedback on the guide and especially Mr Christopher Field, Solicitor and Higher Courts Advocate (Civil) for peer reviewing it.

      Thanks to the City of London Corporation’s charitable funder, City Bridge Trust for funding the creation of this guide. 

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