How to 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. It is part of series about sorting out a dispute and going to a civil court.
Can they pay you if you win?
This guide is for you if:
What is 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 suing is to get the court to make a decision in your favour (called ‘a judgment’) and award a remedy, usually money compensation.

  • are suing (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.

See ‘Should I sue?’ for useful background information on issuing a claim and ‘Suing in the civil court – route map’ to get an overview of what a typical case might look like.

This guide is not for you if you are involved in:
  • a criminal case,
  • a family case (such as an application for 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 Personal Support Unit volunteers, CAB volunteers, advice workers and court staff, as well as relatives and friends.

March 2018

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.

How to find out if the defendant has money or assets
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.

If you are suing to get money, you need to know that your opponent - the defendant - is insured and the insurers are covering the claim, or that the defendant has enough assets. 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 doesn’t, unless they are insured.

So, you need to find out if your opponent has money or assets and where those assets are, because that will affect your ability to make the defendant obey a court order to pay you:

  • Here in England and Wales you can bring enforcement proceedings through the England and Wales 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.

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.

Searches

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

You can:

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.

Next steps

If your opponent does have enough money or 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.

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

Or, you may decide to do nothing, knowing that you have considered your options carefully and that 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.

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 – 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.

Judgement – the court’s decision.

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

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 suing is to get the court to make a decision in your favour (called ‘a judgment’) and award a remedy, usually money compensation.

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Acknowledgements

This guide was produced by Law for Life's Advicenow project.

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.

March 2018
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