Taking your own legal action
Suing your client by issuing a County Court Summons is not particularly difficult, however you should first consider carefully:
- Have you the time available to complete paperwork and attend court hearings?
- If the dispute has arisen as a result of an allegation of poor workmanship, or you failing to do what you said you would, then your client will be given an opportunity to tell the court why he is not willing to settle your account. If the court rules in their favour, not only will you lose your legal fees but you could well up end paying your client's legal bill as well not being paid for the original job. Make sure that you have a concrete case before taking anyone to court.
- Is your invoice large enough to warrant this action? You will have to pay the court an initial fee to begin your action. If after the court serves a summons on your behalf and your client still refuses to pay, then you will have to pay further costs to arrange a court hearing.
Going ahead with your action
If you believe that you have a solid case and that the amount owed merits this action then suing your client is relatively straightforward:
- Find out the name and address of the County Court closest to where you live. You'll find them listed in the phone book under courts.
- Either phone up, or visit them to pick up an information pack together with the forms you will need to complete in order to begin your action.
- Complete the forms as per the court's instructions and enclose your payment. The court will then serve a summons on your client by first class post.
- Your client then has 14 days to reply to this summons.
- If your client fails to do anything you then ask the court for a judgement to be made immediately.
- If your client pays you then you simply inform the court that your action has been settled and that is the end of the matter.
- If your client acknowledges receipt of the summons and lodges a defence, then the court will send a copy of the defence to you. Both you and your customer must now complete questionnaires supplied by the court and return them to the court.
- Your claim will then be given a hearing date and you will be provided with directions from the court on what you must to do to prepare your case. It is at this point that you may have to pay additional costs.
- Finally, you will have to attend a hearing or trial.
Dealing with a payment dispute
Hopefully such instances will never arise. Certainly you can do a number of things to avoid disputes happening in the first place.
- Prior to starting any work you should always send a written quote, estimate or confirmation detailing what work you are proposing to carry out and at what price.
- Communicate with your client. If there is a problem with the job then let them know as soon as you do. Don't put in extra hours overcoming some obstacle that has arisen and then present your client with an inflated bill. If you're going to have to veer oif your initial price then let your client know before carrying out the work.
If your client disputes your final bill then try to discuss the matter with them before threatening any legal action or demanding payment. Remember, if you do take your client to court for non-payment of your invoice, the court has a duty to listen to both sides. Just because you have initiated the action does not mean the court will necessarily rule in your favour.
If you find yourself deadlocked in a dispute then ask your client to put their complaint in writing. If they won't, then you should write to them as soon as possible outlining in your letter the steps you have taken to resolve their complaints. In the event of a court action you will need written evidence. Recollections of telephone discussions and meetings will most certainly be disputed. So make sure you confirm and clarify everything in writing.
Only when it appears to you that the matter cannot be resolved should you instigate legal action to recover a debt, and only then if it seems worthwhile.
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