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This guide covers England and Wales
To view all guides that cover Scotland, please click here.

This guide explains what to do if a business is threatening to get a county court judgment (CCJ) against you, and you have a defence.

A defence has to be a legal reason:

  • why you do not owe all or part of the debt; or
  • that should stop the creditor from taking court action against you.

If you think that you have a defence, contact us for advice.

Get advice

Putting in a defence can be very complicated. You are likely to need legal advice, and may face large costs if your defence is unsuccessful. If you are thinking about putting in a defence you should contact us for advice.

Use this guide to:

  • see how to respond if you are sent a letter of claim;
  • find out what to do if you receive a county court claim; and
  • understand how to complete a county court claim form.

Rent or mortgage arrears

If the court action involves rent or mortgage arrears, there are special rules. These are not covered here. Contact us for advice.

Before court action starts

Under court rules called the pre-action protocol for debt claims, the court expects people to do all they can to avoid court action. It expects both you and the creditor to give each other a reasonable amount of information, so that each side can understand the other’s position. It also expects you to try to reach an agreement to avoid court action if you can. If you are not sure that the creditor has acted properly, contact us for advice. See our Pre-action protocol in the County Court guide for more information.

Letter of claim

Before a creditor starts court action by sending you a court claim they should send you a ‘letter of claim’. The letter of claim should:

  • give details of the agreement or contract that the claim relates to;
  • explain how they have calculated the amount they say you owe;
  • let you know how to contact the creditor to talk about how to pay; and
  • include an information sheet which tells you where you can get free, independent advice.

Court action should be a last resort. It may still be possible to negotiate a repayment arrangement with the creditor. Contact us for advice.

If you dispute all or part of the debt, the creditor should consider whether it may be appropriate to use a conciliation, arbitration or mediation scheme to help resolve the disagreement. These schemes are often called ‘alternative dispute resolution’ and can include raising the dispute with an ombudsman or trade body. Contact us for advice.

Replying to a letter of claim

You should receive a reply form included with the letter of claim. You need to send the completed reply form to the creditor within 30 days of the date at the top of the letter. The content of your reply will depend on whether you agree you owe the debt or want to dispute it.

Section 1 of the reply form allows you to say whether you owe all of the money, some of it, none of it, or that you don’t know if you owe anything. You need to tick one of the four boxes in section 1 to let the creditor know how you want to reply.

If you cannot decide whether you agree you owe the debt or not, you may need more advice. In section 3 you can tell the creditor:

  • if you are going to get advice, and from where;
  • what you are getting advice about, for example whether you owe the debt; and
  • when you expect to receive the advice.

If you are disputing some or all of the debt you need to explain why you don’t think you owe the amount the creditor says you owe. You should try to clearly explain:

  • the reasons why you do not accept that you owe the money;
  • which parts of their letter you agree with and which parts you do not agree with;
  • whether you intend to make your own claim against the creditor, or not;
  • if you think the creditor is responsible for any part of the dispute and why;
  • if you agree to the creditor’s proposals on how to sort the dispute out without going to court;
  • your suggestions for sorting the matter out, if you do not agree to the creditor’s proposals;
  • a list of any documents that you plan to use in your defence;
  • the documents you are sending to the creditor (or why you cannot send them); and
  • which other documents you want from the creditor.

If you ask the creditor to send you documents, the creditor should either send them, or explain why they are not available, within 30 days .

Interest and court costs

If the creditor sends you a letter of claim and you do nothing, in some situations they can ask the court to increase the total amount you have to pay back. The court does not have to do this and may not do so if you agree you owe the money. If the court agrees, it can add an extra amount of interest to the debt. The court can also order you to pay part, or all, of the creditor’s court costs.

If the creditor does not send you a letter of claim before making a court claim, you can ask the court to reduce the total amount you owe. The court can do this by reducing the amount of interest you have to pay. Alternatively, the court may order the creditor to pay all or part of the costs of the case. Contact us for advice.

County court claims

If you don’t agree with the amount of the debt the creditor says you owe and they make a county court claim against you, then you must either:

  • fill in the defence form. In this case send the form back to the court within 14 days of the claim being served on you; or
  • fill in the ‘acknowledgement of service’ form and tick the box to say you wish to defend all of the claim. Send the form back to the court within 14 days of the claim being served on you. This gives you another 14 days after that to complete your defence and return it to the court.

‘Serving’ a document is a legal term that means it has been delivered in the correct way.

If you agree you owe only part of the debt, then you have to fill in both the admission form and the defence form and send them both to the court.

Even if you don’t reply within 14 days , you should still send either the defence form or the ‘acknowledgment of service’ form if the judgment has not been made yet. This will stop the court from making a default judgment against you. See our Replying to a County Court claim guide for more information.

Online claim

If your creditor made a claim against you using the Online Civil Money Claims service and provided your email address, you will also receive a copy of the claim by email. You have the option to respond to the claim online or in the post.

When court action starts

The creditor may consider starting court action 14 days after you have received their letter. Tell the creditor if you need more time to get advice. If your case is very complicated, the creditor may agree to give you up to three months before they consider taking court action.

Completing the defence form

A defence is a legal reason for:

  • why you do not owe all or part of a debt; or
  • why you do not think the creditor has the right to take court action against you for a debt you do owe.

When your creditor makes a county court claim against you, they should explain what they say you owe and why in the ‘particulars of claim’.

When you complete the defence form, say which points in the particulars of claim you deny or dispute. Explain your reasons clearly. You may find it helpful to write out what you want to say first before completing the court form. You could write what you want to say in a list of separate bullet points. If you do not explain why you dispute a point that is in the creditor’s particulars of claim, the court may think that you agree with that point.

When you defend a claim in the County Court, there will be more paperwork to complete and a hearing may be arranged so that the court can make a decision on your case. If you lose, further costs can be added to your debt. If the claim is for £10,000 or less, these extra costs are usually less than in other cases.

Putting in a defence is complicated. You are likely to need legal help. We can help you to find advice that is suitable for you. Contact us for advice.

Emailing the court

You may be able to contact the court by email. Contact the court for advice.


Mediation is a form of alternative dispute resolution (ADR) which involves both parties trying to resolve the dispute over money without the need for a court hearing. HM Courts & Tribunals Service (HMCTS) provide a service called the Small Claims Mediation Service, which you may be able to access if the claim you dispute is for less than £10,000 .

Depending on the process your creditor used to start a court claim, you may be expected to take part in the mediation process as part of the standard procedure.

You can find more information on the Small Claims Mediation Service on www.gov.uk.

Claims issued on or after 22 May 2024

If you reply with a defence to a money claim, your case will automatically be referred to the Small Claims Mediation Service if it meets the following criteria.

  • The value of the claim is less than £10,000 .
  • The claim is only for a specified sum of money.
  • The claim was not started using the Online Civil Money Claims process.
  • The claim is not for personal injury or relates to a road traffic accident.

If your case meets the criteria and your case is referred to the Small Claims Mediation Service you are expected to attend the mediation which is arranged by the court for you. If you do not attend mediation when required the court may apply a sanction, such as ordering you to pay additional costs.

Claims issued before 22 May 2024

If you replied to a money claim with a defence, you will only need to attend mediation if both you and the creditor agree to. This means that you cannot be forced to use mediation for a claim issued before 22 May 2024 .

Small Claims Mediation Service

If you need to take part in the mediation process, the mediator from the Small Claims Mediation Service will contact you to arrange a time and date for the mediation.

The mediator is not on anyone’s side. It is their job to remain neutral and help you try to reach an agreed settlement. Mediation is usually done over the telephone, and the appointment can last up to one hour.

You do not have to agree to a settlement as part of the mediation process. However, you may decide that it is worth considering the proposal as it would mean that you do not need to attend a court hearing, or you may have a better understanding of the claimant’s perspective after speaking with the mediator.

If the mediation is successful the court process will be stayed – this means paused. Depending on what you agreed as part of your settlement, the claim may be discontinued, or the claimant may be allowed to apply for a judgment for the outstanding sum of the settlement agreement.

If the mediation is unsuccessful the court process will continue in the usual way.

Your credit rating

If you are successful in making a defence against all of the money claimed the court will not make a CCJ against you. If you successfully defend part of the debt claimed, but you admit that you owe some of it, the court will make a CCJ against you. The CCJ will normally be recorded on a public register called the Register of Judgments, Orders and Fines. This information is also registered on your credit reference file. The information will stay on your credit reference file and the Register of Judgments, Orders and Fines for six years from the date the CCJ was made, unless you pay the CCJ in full within one calendar month .

If you pay the CCJ in full after one calendar month , you can ask for your entry to be marked as ‘satisfied’ if you provide proof of payment, but the CCJ will still stay on your credit reference file. This is likely to affect your ability to get credit. See our Credit reference agencies guide for more information.

Defending a claim

If you attempt to defend the court claim but are unsuccessful in doing so the CCJ will not be registered unless:

  • the court has ordered instalments to be paid; or
  • the creditor takes steps to enforce the debt.

You should not defend a claim unless you have reasonable grounds to do this. If you have not got reasonable grounds and you are unsuccessful in defending the claim, you may end up having to pay additional costs. If you are thinking about defending a claim, contact us for advice.

If no CCJ has been registered you could try to negotiate an affordable payment plan directly with the creditor. This would prevent the CCJ from being registered unless the creditor applies for enforcement measures through the court.

Alternatively, you could apply to the court for a variation which is an instalment plan. If approved by the court this would prevent the creditor from being able to use any enforcement as long as you keep up with the payments, but the CCJ would be registered.

Breathing Space

If you need time to get debt advice and find a debt solution, you may want to consider applying for breathing space. Breathing space will stop most types of enforcement, and also stop most creditors applying interest and charges, for 60 days .

To find out more, see our Breathing space guide.

Credit reference agencies guide

Pre-action protocol in the County Court guide

Replying to a County Court claim guide

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