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Step one: Write a letter before action

This advice applies to England

Going to court is the last resort. The court will expect you to find another way of reaching an agreement before taking your claim to court. Otherwise, the court might decide that you will not get your costs back or that you should pay the other party’s costs, even if you win the case.

If going to court is your only option, you must send the trader a formal  letter before action (or letter before claim) to give them one last chance to settle the matter.  You'll need to send a letter before action even if you have already written to the trader about the problem.

This page tells you what to put in your letter before action and what to do if you're not happy with the trader's response.

What to put in the letter before action

Write 'Letter before action' at the start of your letter, to make it clear it's a formal letter. Your letter should include the following details:

  • your name and address
  • the reason for your claim
  • a clear round up of the facts
  • what you want the trader to do to put things right
  • how much you're claiming. If you're claiming compensation for extra costs you've had as a result of the problem, you'll need to show how you have worked out the costs, including interest
  • a list of any documents you'll be using to prove that you are owed the money
  • an invitation to use alternative dispute resolution like mediation to sort out your problem, if you haven't already tried it
  • a date by when you want the trader to give you a full response. This will depend on how complicated the case is, but 14 days is usual
  • a request for any documents that you want the trader to provide which will help your case
  • a reminder that you will start court proceedings if the trader doesn’t reply to the letter and that this may mean they will have to pay extra costs
  • a reminder that both of you are expected to follow certain rules. These are set out in the Civil Procedure Rules and they aim to make sure the case is dealt with fairly. To find out more about them, go to

Sending the letter before action

Keep a copy of your letter and get a proof of posting certificate free from the post office, in case the court asks for proof that you sent the letter.

The trader should acknowledge receipt of your letter within 14 days and then give you a full reply within a reasonable time. For most claims this would be around 30 days. If it's more complicated, the court might expect you to allow longer, up to 90 days. If the trader needs more time, they should write and tell you.

If you're not happy with the trader's response

If the trader doesn't accept your claim, they should write and tell you. Their letter should include:

  • the reasons why they don’t accept the claim, setting out which facts they accept and which ones they dispute
  • whether they intend to also make a claim against you and provide full details of the facts. This is called a counter claim
  • whether they agree to solving the problem out of court, through mediation or other alternative dispute resolution scheme
  • a list of the main documents they will use for their defence
  • copies of any documents you asked them for
  • details of any documents they want you to show them.

Realistically, you may not get all this information in the trader's response. You'll have to decide whether to go ahead based on what you do get.

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