A Letter of Claim (sometimes referred to as a ‘Letter Before Action’) is a letter sent by the Claimant to the Defendant to put the Defendant on notice that Court proceedings may potentially begin to be brought against them.
In the context of the Civil Procedure Rules 1998 (CPR), which govern civil litigation in England and Wales, the Letter of Claim is an essential step of the pre-action process. The CPR encourages parties to initially try to resolve their disputes without immediately resorting to formal court proceedings. The Letter of Claim should, ideally, allow the parties to exchange necessary information to understand each other’s position, allowing for a better foundation on which to proceed and try to resolve the dispute.
What should a Letter of Claim look like?
A Letter of Claim should:
– Identify the parties to the dispute.
– Give a concise explanation of the facts of the claim.
– Provide reference to any relevant legal or contractual frameworks and documents.
– Provide a detailed explanation of the Claimant’s position and relief sought.
– Request for the Defendant to respond within a given timeframe (with a clear statement that court proceedings will be initiated in absence of response within the set timeframe).
– Encourage the parties to consider ADR methods.
– Warn of potential cost consequences once legal proceedings commence.
A well worded Letter of Claim, clearly setting out the Claimant’s position and expectations, can in some cases lead to a very quick resolution of the dispute, avoiding the need for costly litigation.
What to do if you receive a Letter of Claim
Do not ignore the Letter of Claim. You must acknowledge receipt of the Letter of Claim within 14 days. This does not necessarily mean you have to respond within 14 days, but it will be useful to keep careful note of the deadline for responding if set out in the letter as to not miss it. If no deadline is set out on the letter, it may be worth reaching out to the Claimant to try and agree on such deadline, otherwise try to respond to simple claims within 14 days of receipt and more complex ones within 3 months.
In preparation for your response, try to collect all evidence, documents and communications which are relevant to the dispute. It is important to avoid being one-sided during this process, as to assess your position you will need to be aware of all potential evidence which may have an effect on the outcome of the dispute, whether it is positive or negative. Be very cautious about creating any new evidence or making any concessions or admissions which may become disclosable in litigation and harm your case.
On having collated all the necessary information on the case, and having carefully evaluated the claim and its merits, you will be in a much stronger position to prepare an informed response to the Letter of Claim. A response letter should include the following:
– Information as to which facts are being confirmed and which facts are being disputed.
– Clarification on which claims are being accepted and which are being disputed.
– Detailed grounds for disputing any claims.
– If making a counterclaim, facts and grounds of such claim will also be necessary as part of this response. The other party should respond to the counterclaim in the same manner within 28 days or any reasonable given timeframe.
Once the Claimant has received the response and is aware of the position you are taking the next pre-action steps can be taken to proceed in trying to resolve the dispute.
If you want help deciphering the strength of our claim, our online tools can assist.