Debt Recovery for Businesses
We provide legal advice and assistance tailored to your individual circumstances. We do not conduct large scale fixed fee debt recovery work using standard form documents. These pages explain our approach to and charges for debt recovery work conducted in the CountyCourts.
This information is intended as a general guide to the likely costs of pursuing or defending a claim for unpaid debts of up to £100,000 in the English and Welsh County Court system between parties based in England and Wales. Please contact us for a tailored quote if your case is of greater value or is very complex and may be more suited to litigation in the High Court.
Litigation may take many forms and involve numerous parties. It is not always possible to predict the turns which litigation may take and we will always provide a personalised estimate of the likely costs of any case you seek to bring or defend.
Our team has extensive experience of representing clients in County Court matters. All work is conducted under the supervision of our experienced partners and you will always be informed at the outset who will be your principal contact and supervising partner for each matter.
Head of the team is Timothy Eppel. Details of all fee earners who may work on debt recovery matters are available on our Commercial Litigation page.
Fee estimate for debt recovery
Every case is different. In debt recovery, it is necessary to go through certain stages of litigation. Any
case may settle at any stage and the total cost will be heavily dependent on the likelihood and stage of settlement. We have included an overall summary of likely fees for a contested debt claim and broken down further fee ranges on these pages on a stage basis as well as providing some general information on the litigation process to assist you. The figures set out are general ranges of costs based on our experience. They are not quotes and actual costs incurred may fall outside of the ranges provided if your case is significantly more complex or significantly less complex than the general run of cases or if you ask for a more senior fee earner than would usually be warranted by the complexity of your case.
Unless agreed otherwise in advance, our charges are based on the time spent, calculated at the following hourly rates:
- Partners: £350 - £585 plus VAT at 20%
- Solicitors and Consultants: £240 - £490 plus VAT at 20%
- Trainees: £210 plus VAT at 20%
For each stage, the estimated range of costs below includes:
- Taking instructions, advising you on the process and keeping you up to date;
- Reviewing documents and correspondence
- Advising on strategy, including as regards possible settlement
- Corresponding with your opponents and the Court
- Where reference is made to instructing Counsel, preparing instructions to Counsel
- Liaising with witnesses where necessary
The estimated range of costs below does not include:
- Making additional applications in the proceedings
- Dealing with any interim appeals
- Responding to interim applications made by an opponent
- Dealing with any parties based out of the jurisdiction or issues of foreign law which may arise
- In relation to property-related debt recovery work, advising on alternative remedies available in a real estate context.
In any litigation, fees may be payable to third parties. These fees are known as disbursements. The most common disbursements in litigation generally are:
- Court fees – these are costs prescribed by the Court usually based on the value of the claim. The maximum fee for a money claim of £100,000 is £5,000 as explained in the pleading sections below. Some Court fees, such as hearing fees or application fees, are fixed. No VAT is charged on Court fees.
- Counsel’s fees – it will sometimes be necessary or desirable to instruct a barrister to work on your case or to represent you at trial. Barristers, also known as counsel, are usually self-employed individuals who are linked to a chambers. Fees are negotiated on a case by case basis with the relevant chambers on counsel’s behalf. It is likely that a case which goes to trial will require counsel’s involvement. Counsel’s rates vary but a mid-level junior is likely to charge £250 - £350 plus VAT at 20% per hour and a brief fee for a one day hearing is likely to be between around £4,000 and £7,000 plus VAT at 20%. More junior barristers will charge lower fees and more senior barristers will charge higher fees. Most counsel are VAT registered although on rare occasions, VAT may not be payable on counsel’s fees either because counsel is too junior to be VAT registered or because of your location if you are not based in the United Kingdom.
- Mediator fees – if mediation is pursued, fees payable will be agreed in advance and are likely to be subject to VAT. Mediator fees are usually based on an hourly rate agreed with the mediator and may range from around £200 plus VAT at 20% per hour up to around £600 plus VAT at 20% per hour, depending on experience and expertise in a particular sector. As a rough guide, we understand that mediators generally estimate 13 hours preparation for a one day mediation which would mean that costs for a one day mediation would equate to roughly 21 hours plus travel time – usually split between parties. This is likely to vary between providers but gives a broad idea of possible costs.
- Expert and translation fees – sometimes it is necessary to instruct an expert to assist the Court or a translation service if documents are not in English or a witness needs an interpreter. Expert and translation fees are usually subject to VAT unless the expert or translator is not VAT registered. Disbursements of this type are not standard in debt recovery matters and we will let you know if these issues arise on the facts of your case.
- Support services – fees for tracing agents, external copying, couriers, e-disclosure providers (if required) and transcription services are all likely to be subject to VAT. Disbursements of these types would not usually be required in a straightforward debt recovery matter where there is limited relevant documentation. If your matter is more complex, the debtor cannot be found or significant documentation is involved, we will discuss and agree with you the best way to resolve these issues on the facts of your case.
- Professional witnesses and witnesses who need to travel to Court – it may be necessary to pay a fee to professional witnesses or expenses of witnesses who travel to Court. These costs are likely to be subject to VAT. It is unlikely that these costs will arise in the usual run of debt recovery claims however we will let you know if these issues arise on the facts of yourcase.
Detailed explanations of the likely costs involved in each stage of proceedings is set out below. The overall costs range from around £1,600 - £2,000 plus VAT at 20%, exclusive of Court fee for a simple claim where the debtor does not engage at all to fees of around £35,000 plus VAT at 20%, exclusive of Court fee for a one day multi track case involving 2 witnesses and reasonably extensive documentation. There are many variables involved in assessing likely costs and you are encouraged to consider all of the points listed below to assist you in making an informed decision.
Stages of litigation
Preparing and/or responding to a letter before action where no significant dispute is anticipated is likely to cost between £300 - £1,500 plus VAT at 20% depending on the nature and age of the debt, whether the debtor is an individual or a business, the existence and clarity of contractual terms, the volume of documentation involved and the seniority of fee earner required. This fee range includes time costs only.
This fee estimate is likely to increase to between £2,000 - £3,000 plus VAT at 20% if significant factual disputes arise, there is a need for detailed investigation - including any expert advice, early counsel’s advice is required or there is relevant ambiguity in contractual documentation. This fee range excludes counsel’s fees and any possible expert fees which would depend on the extent of Counsel’s and any expert’s involvement. All such third party fees would be confirmed with you prior to them being incurred.
Where you are a business claiming a debt from an individual (including a sole trader), it is necessary to take a number of steps to ensure compliance with the Protocol on Debt Claims. The steps required by the protocol have an impact on timing and may increase costs. The protocol does not apply to claims against corporate bodies, unincorporated associations or partnerships.
It is usually sensible to consider alternative dispute resolution options, including mediation, at an early stage. Average costs of a one day mediation are likely to be between £2,000 - £10,000 plus VAT at 20% (including mediator costs) depending, in particular, on the identity of the mediator, the complexity of the case and the number of parties involved. Mediation is not mandatory but should be considered in every case as part of the cost/benefit analysis of progressing litigation. We will discuss options with you as appropriate during the course of the case.
Pleadings: Claim Form, Defence, Counterclaim and Reply
The pleadings stage of a straightforward debt claim is likely to cost between £1,600 and £5,000 plus VAT at 20%. This includes time costs for preparing the Claim Form and Particulars of Claim, considering the defence and advising on any Reply if you are the Claimant. If you are the Defendant, it includes considering the Particulars of Claim, preparing a defence on your instructions and considering any Reply. This does not include Counsel’s fees or any applications which may need to be made such as for an extension of time or for further information (known as Part 18 requests).
Court fees are payable on the filing of a claim and are banded fixed fees for claims of up to £10,000 and 5% of the value of the claim plus any interest due for sums from £10,001 to £200,000. For claims up
to £100,000 the maximum Court fee is therefore likely to be £5,000. If a claim is filed online, the value bands determining fees are the same but the fee is slightly lower. For claims of more than £10,001, the fee is calculated at 4.5% of the value of the claim. It is possible to file all money claims with a value up to £100,000 online. VAT is not payable on Court fees.
Judgment in Default
If you issue and serve a claim form and no response is received at all, you can apply for judgment in default. The cost of claiming judgment in default should be around £100 - £200 plus VAT at 20%. This includes lodging the request for judgment, sending a copy of the judgment to you and your debtor and providing general advice on enforcement options.
Once a claim has been issued and a defence filed, the Court will allocate the claim.
For money claims worth £10,000 or less, allocation will usually be to the Small Claims Track. This involves a simplified procedure for low value claims and lists a trial automatically, the estimated time frame to trial would usually be around two to six months depending on the Court’s availability. There are limited directions and the procedure generally is intended to be manageable without legal assistance. A hearing fee of up to £335 depending on the value of the claim will be payable to the Court. Solicitor’s costs are not usually recoverable. Court fees and a small fixed fee towards legal costs may be claimed if your case is successful. Because of the costs regime of the small claims track, it may not be cost effective to pursue a small claim to trial using a bespoke litigation service. Our fee estimate of costs from allocation to trial would be £2,500 - £7,000 plus VAT at 20% depending on complexity, location, how much evidence is required and the seniority of the fee earner and Counsel involved. This would include costs of a very junior Counsel to attend the hearing but would not include solicitor attendance at Court. This does not include the costs of any applications or expert evidence or the Court fees payable.
For money claims worth more than £10,000 but less than £25,000, allocation will usually be to the Fast Track. This involves standard directions which aim to complete the case with a one day hearing within 30 weeks (subject to the Court’s availability to hear the case). There are limits on recoverable costs in fast track matters, in particular recoverable trial costs are severely limited. Estimated costs from allocation to trial of a fast track matter would be in the region of £4,000 - £18,000 plus VAT at 20% depending on complexity, location, how much evidence is required, and the seniority of the fee earner. This would include the brief fee for a junior Counsel but would not include solicitor attendance at Court, the costs of any applications, the costs of any expert evidence or Counsel’s fees for advising on evidence and/or strategy. A hearing fee of £545 is payable to the Court. No VAT is payable on the hearing fee.
For money claims worth more than £25,000 allocation will usually be to the Multi Track. This involves
the preparation of costs budgets, a case management hearing and bespoke directions. The costs of preparing for and attending a case management hearing are likely to be between £1,200 and £4,000 plus VAT at 20% depending on complexity, location and the seniority of both fee earner and counsel involved. The estimate includes fees for a junior counsel and solicitor attendance at a case management hearing. This is usually necessary where costs budgets have not been agreed in advance. The likely timescale from directions to hearing in Multi Track cases could be anything from about eight months to two years depending on the time parties may need to comply with directions, the estimated length of trial and the Court’s availability.
Multi-Track Cases: Disclosure
In litigation, you are obliged to disclose to the parties and the Court the relevant documents you have in your possession. Costs associated with disclosure will depend on the number of documents involved, the extent of the search which may have to be undertaken, the need for an e-disclosure provider to deal with electronic searches and the need to review documents disclosed by other parties. Second only to trial, disclosure is usually a costly part of litigation.
In a straightforward debt claim, relevant documents ought to be relatively limited. Costs of advising on a search, dealing with documents and reviewing documents disclosed by other parties are likely to range from £2,500 to £20,000 plus VAT at 20% depending on the number and complexity of issues raised in the case and the number of relevant documents to be reviewed. This does not include Counsel’s fees or the fees of an e-disclosure provider which would be negotiated and agreed with you in advance. If any documents are in a language other than English, it may be necessary to instruct translators which would also increase costs. Standard timeframes for dealing with disclosure are 8 – 12 weeks which may vary depending on agreement between the parties.
Multi Track Cases: witness evidence
Many debt recovery claims will have a maximum of two witnesses on each side. Costs of preparing witness evidence will depend on the nature and complexity of the issues in the case. For a straightforward claim with limited documents and one or two witnesses on each side costs are likely to be between £1,200 and £4,000 plus VAT at 20%. This does not include Counsel’s fees or the fees of any interpreter who may be required. Standard timeframes for dealing with witness evidence are four to eight weeks after disclosure has been completed.
Note that expert evidence, if required or permitted by the Court, will usually be dealt with on a separate timescale, usually taking around twelve weeks overall.
Multi Track Cases: trial
Trial costs usually represent the largest expense in any case. Costs of a trial will depend on a number of factors including whether a pre-trial review is required, the complexity of the matter, the estimated length of trial, counsel instructed, amount of documentation, number of witnesses, the need for expert evidence, whether transcripts are required and whether solicitors are in attendance at trial. Claimants are required to pay a hearing fee to the Court of £1,090 (no VAT) shortly before trial.
In our experience, costs of a straightforward one day trial with one witness on either side, no expert evidence, no transcripts, a junior counsel and without solicitor attendance would be in the region of £6,000 - £12,000 plus VAT at 20%. More complex trials may last longer and costs will increase accordingly.
A three day trial involving multiple witnesses may cost between £25,000 - £75,000 plus VAT at 20% depending on a range of factors. These costs would include a brief fee for junior counsel, costs of instructing Counsel, attending a conference, preparing bundles and briefing witnesses on what to expect at Court.
The costs estimates in these pages do not include the costs of pursuing a claim for costs recovery. In most cases, costs follow the event. This means that the person who wins the case can claim costs reasonably and necessarily incurred and which are proportionate to the matters in issue from the losing party. Because of these limitations, it is unusual for a party to recover 100% of its costs from an opponent unless there is a contractual entitlement to costs.
Costs may be assessed by the Court at the end of trial (this is usually the case where the hearing lasts one day or less and is known as summary assessment) or may be subject to a separate assessment process known as detailed assessment. This is a separate claim where the Court considers all elements of costs claimed and decides how much should be paid. Where detailed assessment is ordered, further Court fees are payable and a specialist costs draftsman is usually instructed. The costs involved will depend on the costs claimed, how long the claim has lasted and how much work has been involved overall.
The costs of enforcing a judgment are not included in the fee ranges in these pages. When you obtain a judgment for the payment of money, a debtor usually has 14 days to pay. The Court may allow a different time period if asked to do so. If the debtor fails to pay within the time allowed, there are enforcement options open to you. These may include instructing a bailiff to seize and sell goods, obtaining a charging order if the debtor owns property or shares, obtaining a third party debt order if the debtor has funds in the bank or in the hands of a third party (and you know the details), obtaining an attachment of earnings order if the debtor is employed or issuing a petition to declare the debtor insolvent if there is no prospect of payment. Should enforcement action be needed, we will be happy to discuss the options with you and provide an estimate of costs.
Note that simple interest is payable by the debtor at 8% from the date of judgment if the judgment is for more than £5,000 unless the contract provides for a post judgment rate of interest.
Strictly speaking, statutory demands are not a debt recovery process. They are a formal demand for payment which is a precursor to proving that the debtor is insolvent. Insolvency is a class remedy (in that it is supposed to be for the benefit of all creditors of the debtor) and not a method of debt enforcement, although it is frequently used as such.
Our costs of preparing a statutory demand will depend on the nature and complexity of the matters in issue but are likely to be between £600 and £1,200 inclusive of VAT at 20% depending on complexity. Statutory demands can only be considered where the debt due is £5,000 or more in the case of an individual or £750 or more in the case of a company. This estimate does not include responding to any challenge the debtor may raise to a statutory demand.
Bankruptcy and winding up petitions
Where a debtor is unable to pay a statutory demand or a judgment debt is returned unexecuted, it may be possible to issue a bankruptcy petition if the debtor is an individual or a winding up petition if the debtor is a company or LLP. Such petitions must be served personally by a process server and costs of service would normally be between £150 and £400 plus VAT at 20% depending on location and availability of the debtor. Court fees in insolvency cases include a deposit payable to the official receiver which is refundable if the debtor is not declared insolvent.
For bankruptcy cases, the court fee is £1,270 including the Official Receiver deposit of £990. For winding up cases, the court fee is £1,880 including the Official Receiver deposit of £1,600.
The total costs of applying to have a debtor declared insolvent are likely to be between £2,500 - £6,000 plus VAT at 20% including disbursements such as searches (around £11) and advertisement costs (around £80) which may be payable. This does not include any steps which may need to be taken after a debtor has been declared insolvent.
For information please contact: