A Guide to Civil Procedure Rules for Litigating and Collecting Service Charge Debts in UK County Courts


20/11/2023

Author : Mary-Anne Bowring


A Guide to Civil Procedure Rules for Litigating and Collecting Service Charge Debts

In the UK, litigating and collecting service charge debts involves navigating specific civil procedure rules. Here we aim to provide a comprehensive guide to the procedures and regulations that must be followed when pursuing such cases in UK county courts. Understanding these rules is essential for landlords, property managers, resident management companies, and right-to-manage companies so they can effectively handle service charge disputes. Here we discuss the key steps involved, from pre-action protocols to trial, ensuring a clear understanding of the process.

Pre-Action Protocols
Before commencing legal proceedings for a service charge debt in a UK county court, it is essential to adhere to the pre-action protocols. By design, these protocols aim to encourage early resolution and avoid unnecessary litigation. The specific pre-action protocol for debt claims outlines the steps, such as sending a letter of claim to the debtor, providing a detailed breakdown of the debt, and allowing a reasonable time for the debtor to respond. Compliance with these protocols shows a genuine attempt to resolve the issue before resorting to court action.

Issuing a Claim

If after the pre-action protocols have been followed this fails to resolve the dispute, the claimant can issue a claim in the county court. The court forms can be completed online. You have to provide details of the parties involved, the nature of the claim, the outstanding debt, supporting documents, and the preferred court track. The applicable county court fee depends on the value of the debt.

The Defendant's Response

After issuing the claim, it is the claimant who must ensure it is properly served on the defendant. The methods of service include personal service, first-class post, or email and the court's requirements. Proper is only right and fair as effecting service ensures that the defendant is aware of the claim and has an opportunity to respond.

The Defendant's Response
Upon receiving the claim, the defendant has a limited time to respond. They may admit or deny the claim, file a counterclaim, or request additional information. Failure to respond within the specified timeframe may result in a default judgment.

The Case Management

Following the defendant's response, the court's role is to manage the case to ensure its smooth progress. County court case management involves setting deadlines for the exchange of evidence, witness statements, and expert reports. The court may also encourage alternative dispute resolution methods, such as mediation, to facilitate settlement discussions before trial; however, this is not mandated.

County Court Trials

If the dispute remains unresolved, the case will proceed to trial. The trial is the opportunity for both parties to present their case, call witnesses, and submit evidence. The judge will consider the evidence presented and make a decision based on the balance of probabilities.

Enforcement

If the claimant succeeds at trial and gets a judgment in their favour, the next step is to enforce the judgment and collect the outstanding debt. Various enforcement methods are available, such as obtaining a charging order against the debtor's property, applying for a warrant of control to seize goods, an attachment to an earnings order, or arranging for a third-party debt order.

Summary
Before attempting to litigate a service charge debt through the UK county courts you must have a proper understanding of the civil procedure rules. By following the pre-action protocols, issuing a claim, serving the claim, managing the case effectively, and proceeding to trial if necessary, and claimants can navigate the legal process with confidence.

After achieving a judgment, it is worth realising that enforcement methods such as forfeiting the lease are rarely granted by the Court unless the debt is in the tens of thousands. However, if there is a mortgage company then ordinarily they will pay to protect their security. By following the guidelines outlined in this blog post, landlords, property managers, resident management companies, right-to-manage companies, and homeowners' associations can effectively pursue service charge debts through the UK county court system. Adhering to pre-action protocols, issuing a claim, ensuring proper service, managing the case efficiently, and pursuing enforcement options when necessary are key steps to achieve a resolution.

Navigating the legal process can be complex and time-consuming, but a thorough understanding of the civil procedure rules will empower claimants to navigate the system effectively. By following the correct procedures and adhering to the established protocols, individuals and organizations can seek justice and collect service charge debts owed to them.

Remember, each case is unique, and if you use servicechargesorted.co.uk service, then Ringley Law can be paid to carry out pre-trial due diligence to check that litigation won't fall foul of bad paperwork or the machinery of the lease not being adhered to.

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