Collecting debts owed to you
A person or company that owes you money is your 'debtor'. If they won't pay, there are ways of recovering the debt. The action you take will depend on the size of the debt and your ability to prove that you are owed the money.
This information is given under the assumption that the debt that is owed is not regulated by the Consumer Credit Act 1974.
Contacting a debtor
When trying to recover a debt, you should first write to the debtor, setting out the facts of the situation. It's important to include information such as:
- who's involved - the name and address of both you and your debtor
- dated copies of all paperwork relating to the debt
- a date by which you expect payment (at least seven days)
- a request for the debtor to put in writing any issue or dispute they have with your statement
- details of the steps you'll take if payment isn't received
- being drawn into heated arguments or lengthy correspondence with your debtor
- threatening legal action that you're not prepared to follow up
Using a solicitor
If your debtor doesn't respond to your letter or still won't pay, it can be helpful to discuss your case with a solicitor who's experienced in debt recovery.
For a fee, they can write a letter to your debtor informing them that legal action may be taken if they don't pay. A solicitor's letter can produce quick results.
Talking with a solicitor can also help define your case in legal terms and help identify further action that may be available to you.
Sometimes solicitors will work to a fixed fee. If they are charging an hourly rate, this is usually no less than 50 per hour.
Debt recovery agencies
Some companies specialise in debt recovery and will employ a solicitor to take legal action to recover your debt. They may charge a fixed fee or take a percentage of the money they recover on your behalf.
You should also bear in mind that they may not use legally trained staff.
What to do if the debtor disputes the debt or refuses to pay
If the debtor fails to settle the debt after you have written to them, or if they dispute the debt, there are still options you should try before taking court action.
Taking your debtor to court (see 'Recovering debts through the courts' below) can be time consuming and expensive. Alternatives to court action include independent arbitration, mediation and ombudsman schemes - known as 'alternative dispute resolution' (ADR).
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Recovering debts through the courts
If you can't settle the matter in any other way, you might want to make a claim in court. This is normally used as a last resort. It's advisable, however, to seek independent legal advice first.
It's important to remember that:
- if the debtor has filed a defence and your case fails and the court rules against you, you could be liable for your debtor's costs as well as your own
- a court is unlikely to make a ruling in your favour if it can't establish the facts of the case (this won't be necessary if your debtor hasn't filed a defence)
- if your debtor has filed for bankruptcy or gone into liquidation, your debt will be more difficult to recover
Where your case is heard will depend on how much money is involved. It's advisable to get legal advice if your claim is over 5,000.
Small claims court
For claims up to 5,000, you can represent yourself at your local small claims court. This is part of the county court. The court can rule on claims for specific amounts and issue warrants enforcing its rulings. However, it can't award damages or compensation.
Claims for any amount can be heard in the county court - no minimum or maximum limits apply.
Claims over 15,000 can be heard in the high court. You must take legal advice and have a lawyer to represent you.
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You can make claims for up to 100,000 online. The claim must be against no more than two people.
- Find out more about making a claim online Opens new window
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Enforcing a court ruling
If a court has made an order for someone to pay you an amount of money and they have not paid, you can make an application for the court to enforce the debt.
More useful links
- Where to get advice and support on debt
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