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The people you owe money to are called ‘creditors’. If you owe money and you don't pay it back your creditor might take you to court.

You should reply to the claim as early as possible - usually within 2 weeks. If you disagree you owe the debt, you can tell your creditor this when you reply.

You should also check your options for getting out of debt - you might be able to agree a plan with your creditor instead of going to court.

If you’re taken to court, a court order will be made. This will say whether you need to pay the debt. If you need to pay the debt, the court order will also say how much you need to pay and when you need to pay by.

If you owe money to people or companies in the EU

If you have creditors in the EU they might be able to take you to court. It depends on where you are.

If you're in the UK they can only take you to court in the UK, unless they’re taking action over a property. But if you’re living in the EU, they can take you to court in the EU. They can’t take you to court if you’re only in the EU for a short time - for example, a holiday. 

Get legal advice if you have creditors in the EU. Find free or affordable legal help.

Check your creditor has sent you the right documents

Your creditor has to send you the right documents before taking you to court. If they haven’t, you might be able to challenge the claim.

When you borrowed the money you should have been asked to sign an agreement which says what you and your creditor agree to.

For most credit agreements, you’ll be covered by the Consumer Credit Act. If you’re not sure, find out if your credit agreement is covered by the Consumer Credit Act.

If your agreement is covered by the Consumer Credit Act, your creditor must follow all 3 steps of the process before taking you to court for debt.

Your creditor must send you a:

  1. default notice
  2. letter of claim
  3. claim pack

If your agreement isn’t covered by the Consumer Credit Act, your creditor might not send you a default notice - they might send you a ‘final demand’ or another document instead. Check your credit agreement to find out what your creditor has to send you.

Your creditor still has to send you a letter of claim and a claim pack, even if your agreement isn’t covered by the Consumer Credit Act.

If you feel your creditor hasn’t acted properly, you might be able to challenge the claim against you. For example, if your creditor hasn’t warned you of the debt or they’ve started legal action too quickly. You should contact your nearest Citizens Advice.

1. Default notice

The default notice includes details of what payments you missed and how long you have to pay. Your creditor has to give you at least 2 weeks. After 2 weeks they can send you a letter of claim. If you make the missed payments, your creditor won’t take any further action.

The default notice also includes a fact sheet from the Financial Conduct Authority which explains your rights.

At the top of the first page it should say:

  • ‘Important you should read this carefully’
  • ‘Default notice served under section 87(1) Consumer Credit Act 1974’

2. Letter of claim

Your creditor will have sent you a ‘letter of claim’ because they want to start legal action.
This gives you 30 days to reply.

The letter of claim should have come with:

  • a ‘reply form’ - use this form to say if you agree you owe the debt or say you need more time
  • a ‘standard financial statement’ - use this to make an offer of payment if you can't afford to pay the debt in full
  • details of advice organisations
  • an information sheet explaining how you and your creditor should act

3. Claim pack

If you and your creditor didn’t reach an agreement, they can start legal action against you.

If your creditor has started legal action, the court will have sent you a ‘claim pack’.

You’re given 2 weeks to reply to your creditor from the day you receive the claim pack.

You should always check they documents are genuine. The form name should be at the top and the form number in the bottom right corner.

There should be 4 forms in the claim pack, which you can also download from GOV.UK:

  • N1: Claim form’ - this tells you how much you owe and what the debt is
  • N9: Response pack’ - use this to tell the court you need 4 weeks to prepare your defence if you disagree with the debt
  • N9A: Admission (specified amount)’ - use this to tell your creditor you agree to all or part of a debt, and make an offer to pay
  • N9B: Defence and counterclaim’ - use this to defend a claim if you disagree with the debt, or make a counterclaim if you think your creditor owes you money

If you've received a County Court Judgment

If this is the first document you’ve got about the debt, you might be able to apply to cancel it - this is called ‘setting aside’ the judgment.

Cancelling a claim can be complicated - you contact your nearest Citizens Advice for help.

Replying to your creditor

You need to reply to a claim as soon as possible. What you should do depends on if you:

  • agree you owe part or all of the debt
  • disagree you owe the debt

If you move home

It’s important to let your creditor know if you change address so you don’t miss letters from your creditor. If you don’t, your creditor might start legal action without you knowing.

If you agree you owe part or all of the debt

You should check if you have to pay the debt before responding to your creditor.

What you should do depends on which documents you’ve got from your creditor.

If you’ve received a default notice

You’ll have 2 weeks to make any missed payments you owe.

The default notice will tell you how many payments you’ve missed and how much you need to pay.

If you can’t afford to pay, ask your creditor if you can pay in instalments.

If you only agree to part of the debt, reply to your creditor in writing. You should say why you only agree to part of the debt.

You might only agree to part of the debt if you can prove:

  • you’ve paid some of the money the creditor says you owe
  • you owe less than the creditor says you do
  • the creditor has added charges or interest when they’re not allowed to

It’s best to keep a copy of your reply and send it recorded delivery to prove you sent a reply in case it gets lost.

If you’ve received a letter of claim

You’ll have 30 days to reply to the letter of claim using the reply form.

Use the reply form to:

  • say you agree you owe part or all of the debt
  • offer to pay by instalments or in full - you should attach the standard financial statement
  • tell your creditor you’re getting debt advice and have an appointment - say you’ll need longer than 30 days
  • ask for more information from your creditor - for example, an account statement or a copy of the credit agreement

Send your creditor a ‘standard financial statement’. You can use the budgeting tool on the National Debtline website to work out how much you can afford and create your statement. A small offer, even as low as £1, is better than offering nothing at all.

Find out more about making a plan to pay your debts.

If you’ve received a claim pack

Reply as soon as you can. You’ll normally have at least 2 weeks to reply.

If the claim was made using an online service you can respond to the claim on GOV.UK.

You’ll need to use the:

  • ‘N9A: Admission (specified amount)’ form to tell your creditor you agree you owe part or all of the debt and make an offer to pay
  • ‘N9B: Defence and counterclaim’ form to tell your creditor which part of the debt you disagree to

The N9A: Admission (specified amount) form has a tick box where you can say if you agree you owe part or all of the debt. You can make an offer to pay in box 11.

If you agree to all of the debt, send the form back to your creditor, not to the court.

If you only agree to part of the debt, send both forms back to the court. You’ll find the address of the court in the N1: Claim form.

It’s best to keep a copy and send it recorded delivery to prove you sent the form in case it gets lost.

Find out more about making a plan to pay your debts.

If you disagree you owe the debt

What you should do depends on which documents you’ve received from your creditor.

If you’ve received a default notice

The default notice will tell you how many payments you’ve missed and how much you need to pay.

Reply to your creditor saying why you disagree you owe the debt and ask them to send proof of what you owe. You have 2 weeks to pay after getting the default notice, so make sure you reply as soon as possible.

It’s best to keep a copy and send it recorded delivery to prove you sent a reply in case it gets lost.

If you’ve received a letter of claim

You’ll have 30 days to reply to the letter of claim using the reply form. You should contact your nearest Citizens Advice.

Use the reply form to:

  • say you disagree you owe the debt
  • tell your creditor you’re getting debt advice and have an appointment - say you’ll need longer than 30 days
  • ask for more information from your creditor - for example, an account statement or copy of the credit agreement

If you’ve received a claim pack

Reply as soon as you can. You’ll normally have at least 2 weeks to reply.

If the claim was made using an online service you can respond to the claim on GOV.UK.

You should contact your nearest Citizens Advice for help.

Use the ‘N9B: Defence and counterclaim’ form to tell your creditor you disagree you owe the money.

You might be able to defend the claim if:

  • you can prove you’ve paid the money your creditor say you owe
  • you’re not the person who signed the agreement
  • your creditor didn’t act properly - for example, they didn’t send you the right documents
  • you were under 18 when you signed the agreement
  • the time limit for recovering the debt has run out, normally 6 years

You can’t defend a claim because you:

  • can’t afford to pay the money
  • forgot you had the debt
  • didn’t open the letters your creditor sent you

You can also use the ‘N9: Response pack’ to ask for an extra 2 weeks to prepare your reply. This will give you 4 weeks to reply. Defending a claim can be complicated - you contact your nearest Citizens Advice if you need help.

If your creditor accepts your repayment offer

What happens depends on what stage of the claims process you’re in.

It’s important to keep to your new payment plan, otherwise your creditor can take further legal action against you.

Tell your creditor if you can’t afford your payment plan because your situation has changed. Your creditor might agree to reduce the amount you need to pay each month.

If you replied to a letter of claim

Your creditor can accept your repayment offer without going to court. You’ll then get a letter confirming your new payment plan.

If you replied to a claim pack

Your creditor can ask the court to make the judgment without a court hearing. You’ll then get a notice from the court confirming the judgment.

If your creditor rejects your repayment offer

What happens depends on what stage of the claims process you’re in.

If you’ve received a letter of claim

Your creditor can refuse your repayment offer and send you a claim pack.

If you’ve received a claim pack

Your creditor can refuse your repayment offer and ask the court to make a decision on your case. This doesn’t usually involve a court hearing. This might mean you’re asked to pay more than you can afford.

After the County Court Judgment has been made

It’s important to keep up payments after the judgment has been made. If you don’t, your creditor might take more action to get the money back. For example, they might ask the court to send bailiffs to your home or take money from your wages.

After the judgment, your creditor might ask the court to secure the debt against your home - this is called a ‘charging order’. They might do this even if you keep making payments. You can find out what to do if your creditor applies for a charging order.

The judgment will stay on your credit file for 6 years and might make it harder for you to get credit.

If you don’t agree with the judgment, or your situation has changed you can ask the court to:

  • review the judgment
  • change the payments
  • cancel the judgment

Check if the court can review the judgment

You can write to the court to ask them to review the County Court Judgment - this is called a ‘redetermination’. You’ll need to ask for a redetermination within 2 weeks of the judgment.

You won’t need a form to ask for a redetermination, just write a letter to the court.

You can ask for a redetermination if all of these apply:

  • you can’t afford the payments
  • you’ve admitted the claim and made an offer of payment, but your creditors haven’t accepted your offer
  • after your creditor didn’t accept your offer, the court set a payment plan without a hearing

Check if the court can change the payments

You can ask the court to change the payments - this is called a ‘variation’. You can ask for a variation if you missed the deadline for a redetermination or your situation has changed.

You’ll have to pay a fee to ask for a variation, but if you’re on a low income, you can apply to get help on GOV.UK.

Find out how to ask the court to change the judgment.

Check if the court can cancel the judgment

If you get a County Court Judgment you don’t agree with, you might be able to apply to challenge it. You should challenge the judgment as soon as possible.

What you need to do depends on whether you replied to the claim.

If you replied to the claim, you might be able to appeal against the judgment. You’ll need to pay for legal advice - check how to look for an affordable solicitor.

If you didn’t reply to the claim, you might be able to ask the court to cancel the judgment - this is called ‘setting aside’ the judgment. Talk to an adviser to find out if you can ask to set aside the judgment.

You’ll also have to pay a fee to ask the court to set aside the judgment. If you’re on a low income, you can apply to get help paying the court fee on GOV.UK.

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