This page focuses on fast and multi track claims. For information on the small claims track please see our I want to take someone to court (low value claims) section.

Before you start a claim, you should think about alternative options to resolving your dispute

For more general information, please view our main section I want to take someone to court

Before starting a claim

Different types of claim have different requirements that must be followed before starting a claim. These are called ‘pre-action protocols’. They set out the right procedure for sharing information ahead of court proceedings.

In general, the court will expect the parties to have shared enough information to: 

  • understand each other’s position
  • make decisions about how to proceed
  • try to settle the issues without the need for formal proceedings
  • consider a form of Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) to assist with settlement
  • support the efficient management of those proceedings
  • reduce the costs of resolving the dispute.

This will usually start with a formal letter sent to the person or business with whom you have a dispute. This is known as a ‘letter before claim’ or ‘letter before action’. The letter should include: 

  • your full name and address;
  • a summary of what you feel has gone wrong;
  • what you want the person or business to do about it
  • how much money you want and how you’ve calculated that amount.

You should also set a reasonable deadline for reply, usually at least 14 days. You should make clear that you will start court proceedings if you do not get a satisfactory response from the other side. 

It is possible that the other side will agree with your letter and make an offer to settle the dispute. You should think about this carefully and weigh up the advantages of settling the matter out of court. 

If the other side does not agree with your letter, they should set out in reply which parts they disagree with and why. They may even make a claim of their own (known as a counterclaim) if they feel that you owe them money. If so, they should indicate any counterclaim in their response to your letter. 

Starting a claim

If you are not satisfied with the reply to your letter before claim, or if you do not get a reply, you can commence your claim. This can be doneonline if:

  • You know how much money you want to claim
  • Your claim is worth less than £100,000
  • You do not want help with paying the court fees

If you cannot (or do not want to) start your claim online, you should start your claim by post. To make a claim by post, you will need to download a claim form (Form N1).

Allocating your claim to a track

If your claim is defended by the other side, the court will send you a ‘notice of provisional allocation to track’. This will determine if your claim has been provisionally allocated to the fast or multi track based on the value of the claim.

You will be prompted to complete a ‘directions questionnaire’ which you should complete and return to the court by the date shown on the notice. This will help the judge determine whether the provisional allocation is correct or not.

The court will expect you and the other side to cooperate when filling in the directions questionnaire. You should make sure that you, or your legal representative, have contacted the other side to talk about filling in the form. 

Can we settle the claim and avoid a hearing? 

Even if you start court proceedings you may be able to sort out your problem without going all the way through to a final hearing before a judge. Or, you may find that you can agree on some parts of the dispute even if you can’t agree on everything. If you can do this then it will probably cut down the time and costs involved.

The directions questionnaire will ask if you are trying to settle your dispute and if you would like your claim to be put on hold to allow settlement discussions. If the judge agrees, they will send both parties an order stating that the claim has been put on hold. That time can be extended if both sides feel more time is needed to reach a settlement. If you can’t settle after this, the case will continue towards a hearing. 

Support available

If your claim is worth £10,000 or more, you should think about getting legal advice from a solicitor, law centre or advice agency. The fast and multi track procedures are not straightforward, may lead to a formal trial, and may be expensive. 

If you don’t understand any part of the court proceedings, or what you need to do, then get legal advice straight away. To learn about the ways you could get free advice, look at our information about getting free legal advice.

If you decide to use a lawyer to help you with the court process, they will explain exactly what will happen and when. You can find out more about the different types of lawyer on our types of lawyers page.

You can also find out more about court hearings and making appeals against a court decision in this Advice Now guide Going to Court: Hearings, the trial and appeals.