With any monetary transaction like a loan to a friend, invoice from a business, or a refund from a tradesperson, there will always be a chance that the other party will fail to pay you.
Just getting back what is owed to you can be difficult enough, but if you then also lose touch with the debtor, the complexity of your problems will increase significantly.
When a business owes you money it's generally a straightforward matter to track them down, as when a business is still trading their contact details can be found online or via their advertising. But for debts owed by a person it can be a much more difficult task to trace an individual.
Regardless of having the debtor's mobile number, email address and social media details, the most important information you will need when considering legal action is their address.
Legal options for debt recovery.
The first stage in taking formal debt recovery legal action is sending a Letter of Claim (also known as a Letter Before Action) to the debtor.
The purpose of this letter is to outline the exact amount that is owed, the reason you believe the debt is due, provide a reasonable timeframe for payment to be made in full, and in the event payment is not received in this timeframe, warn that court proceedings may be started without further notice.
The Letter of Claim should be posted to the debtor at their current address. While a copy can also be sent via email it must be sent in the post and be clearly dated. Sending this letter is an important 'pre-action' step and is required to comply with the various pre-court action protocols.
Should the letter not result in payment the next stage is issuing court proceedings. Again, this will require the debtor’s current address for the court to successfully serve the Claim Form and for you to start any subsequent enforcement action.
Therefore, finding the current address of the debtor is critical before considering legal proceedings.
How to find a business that owes you money?
Businesses are generally easier to locate an address for as most businesses want to be found by their potential customers. A trading address will usually be on their website, used in their advertisements or in any agreements or terms and conditions you may have been given.
Failing this the next places to try to locate an address are on the various business listings that are available online:
How do I find a person who owes me money?
Individuals can be much more difficult to locate an address for as there will be significantly less information about them online or in the public domain.
A first step is to ask any friends or business associates that you may have in common if they know the debtor's current address. Note that while you may know the workplace of the individual, legal correspondence for a debt owed by them personally must be sent to their residential address and not to their employer.
There are then some free and low cost directories available online which may help trace an individual such as the BT Phonebook and 192.com. However, the results provided by these directories may be limited and outdated so it is not recommended that these are solely relied on.
The most reliable method of tracing an individual's address is to instruct a professional tracing agent. These can be found online and will offer various tracing packages depending on the depth and timeframe required for the search. Also, many tracing agents offer a no trace no fee service which can be helpful in the event an individual cannot currently be located.
Tracing someone who owes you money.
Being owed money but having no address for the debtor adds a further level of complication to taking legal action. However, with a little DIY investigation work and perhaps paying a small fee for some professional tracing assistance, most debtors can be found.
Once you have located the debtor you then need to be confident that they have the assets or funds available to repay the debt. If you were struggling to locate a business because it has closed, or an individual has moved due to their previous home being repossessed, you will need to think carefully about your chances of recovering the debt before incurring the cost of pursuing them through the courts.
Whether you are a business or an individual, when money is owed to you there's usually a clear deadline specified for when payment is expected to be made. For example, your business invoices will have a payment period detailed on them, and if you've loaned money to a friend then you will have an agreed repayment date or schedule.
But if this date passes and no payment has been forthcoming, can you claim interest on the money owed to you?
Interest on business debts.
The ability to charge interest on an overdue invoice or order will depend on the status of your customer and the contractual terms you have agreed that deal with late payment. If you have a contract in place that contains a provision or clause for interest to be charged, then this should be sufficient to add interest to the overdue amount at the agreed rate.
If there is no specific contract in place with your customer that dictates interest charges, you may still be able to claim interest via legislation known as the Late Payment of Commercial Debts (Interest) Act 1998 if your customer is also a business (limited company, sole trader etc.).
Late payment of commercial debts.
This late payment legislation permits you to charge 8% interest plus the Bank of England base rate on overdue debts owed by your business customers (B2B). You can begin charging interest as soon as payment becomes overdue, and if no payment date was documented or agreed payment is classed as late 30 days from the customer receiving your invoice or delivery of the service/product.
There are some exceptions and additional items that can be claimed as part of this legislation, so please read our full guide on claiming interest on unpaid invoices. Alternatively you may wish to instruct business debt recovery solicitors who will be able to calculate your late payment interest and compensation entitlement on your behalf.
Business to consumer debts.
If the customer whose payment is overdue is an individual and not a business, there is no statutory right to charge interest on the amount. So, unless you have an agreed contract or terms of business in place that specifies additional charges will be made in the event of late payment, no interest is able to be added to the debt until court proceedings are started.
When dealing with debts incurred by consumers (and sole-traders) it is also important to comply with the Pre-Action Protocol for Debt Claims. Failure to do so before commencing court proceedings may result in sanctions being imposed on you, likely in relation to court costs.
Quick Reference - Interest on Debt Claims
* Based on statutory annual interest entitlement, details correct as at June 2019.
Interest on personal debts.
If you are owed money as an individual such as through a private sale, shared bills or a personal loan, there is no entitlement to claim interest on the debt unless you have a signed contract or agreement that permits it.
For example, in the case of lending money ideally you will have documented the arrangement in a loan agreement which should have a provision for any interest and what occurs in the event of the borrower defaulting on their repayments.
Without a written contract interest is not able to be added to a personal debt prior to court proceedings being started.
Interest on court claims.
Regardless of the status of the debtor and the absence of a right to contractual interest, if you get to the stage of issuing a court claim to recover the debt, interest will often be able to be added to the amount owed.
Section 69 of the County Courts Act 1984 permits interest to be added to most non-commercial debts at the rate of 8% per year. This is a statutory interest rate and you can usually claim it from the date the debt was due up to the date you issue the claim.
At the point of issuing court proceedings, other court fees and costs can also be added to the amount that is being claimed. However, note that interest as with any other element of a claim is awarded at the discretion of the court.
The applicable interest is just one of the items that needs to be considered and calculated as part of a court claim for a debt. Therefore, it is always advisable to seek early legal advice if you are contemplating pursuing a substantial debt.
As a responsible dog owner, receiving notification that someone is pursuing a compensation claim against you after being bitten by your dog can be a shock.
UK research indicates that one in four people have been bitten by a dog in their lifetime, with a third of bites requiring medical attention but only 0.6% requiring hospital attendance. So, while being seriously injured by a dog is relatively rare, any injury to a human which involves your pet will still be a cause for concern.
In the immediate aftermath of a dog bite, the police often become involved to assess if your dog is dangerous or could be considered out of control. The outcome of this investigation could be a warning, fine, banning order or even prison sentence in the most serious of cases.
But regardless of any action the police may take in a criminal capacity, you may still be subjected to civil legal proceedings in the form of a compensation claim made by the injured party.
If this occurs, then you'll need to be aware of the options available in defending a dog related personal injury claim and that you cannot always be held legally responsible for injuries that have been caused by your pet.
Insurance covering dog bite claims.
There are various insurance policies which you may have in place that can cover you in the event that a personal injury claim is made against you as a dog owner.
Should you receive a claim, it's recommended to first check for any possible insurance policy and if cover exists, report the claim to your insurer as soon as possible. They will then take over the handling of the claim and instruct a solicitor to act on your behalf.
If no cover exists, or your insurer refuses to indemnify you, then you need to seek advice from a personal injury defence lawyer.
Dog bites and the law.
For a claimant to be successful in their damages claim they must prove that the owner of the dog was responsible for the actions of the animal, and/or have been negligent in some way.
The Animals Act and dog bites
A key piece of law that is often cited in animal attack cases is the Animals Act 1971. This legislation defines the conditions that a dog’s keeper can be responsible for the behaviour and damage caused by their dog.
The act provides three tests that must be met before the owner or person in possession of the animal can be held liable for any damage that has been caused. Basically, these tests are that:
a. The damage or injury was likely to be caused by the animal unless it was restrained, and
b. It was caused by a characteristic of the animal, and
c. The characteristic was known to the owner or keeper of the animal.
While any dog has the ability to bite, they will generally only ever do this in unusual circumstances which may not be able to be reasonably foreseen by the keeper.
Proving negligence in dog bite cases
Being the owner or handler of a dog, you owe the public and any visitors to your home a 'duty of care' to prevent the animal from injuring them. If a claimant can prove that an owner has breached this duty, and so been negligent, then they may be entitled to compensation.
A person simply being bitten by a dog does not mean that the owner has been negligent. A claimant would need to show that they were aware that the dog attack could happen and failed to take adequate steps to prevent it.
Defences to a dog bite injury.
As you have probably gathered, defending a dog bite compensation claim is a complex task and you should obtain specialist legal advice when faced with a claim.
An experienced solicitor can investigate the circumstances of the incident, as well as the history of the animal, to present all mitigating factors on why you may not be liable for the injuries caused. For example, common defences may include:
When it comes to the law, your beloved family pet is simply considered a piece of property that has inflicted damage on another person. So if you are placed in the position of defending a claim, ensure you seek the legal advice you need and your pet deserves.
Catalyst Law are team of legal professionals with over 20 years' experience helping businesses and people with their legal problems.
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