Pre-action protocol in debt cases

Procedure to follow before claiming payment of a debt potentially including rent and service charge arrears.

This content applies to England & Wales

Aims of Pre-Action Protocol for Debt Claims

The Pre-action Protocol for Debt Claims came into force on 1 October 2017.[1]

The Protocol aims to:

  • encourage early communication between the parties, including exchanging information relating to the debt

  • enable the parties to resolve the matter without going to court, including by agreeing a repayment plan or using an Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) procedure

  • encourage the parties to act reasonably and proportionately – for example to avoid running up costs out of proportion to the sums at issue

Scope of Pre-Action Protocol for Debt Claims

The Protocol does not apply where the debt is covered by another Pre-action Protocol, such as the Mortgage Arrears Pre-action Protocol.

The extent to which it applies to rent arrears (or service charge arrears) is uncertain. Any landlord who is considering applying to court for unpaid rent (whether or not as part of a claim for possession) should be aware that the court may consider compliance with the Protocol when making an order, and/or awarding costs.

Where the term 'tenant' is used here, this includes leaseholders.

Initial contact

Under the Pre-action Protocol for Debt Claims, the landlord/creditor must send a letter of claim to the tenant/debtor before applying to court for a money judgment. Information that must be contained in the letter of claim includes:

  • details of the debt and whether any interest is accruing (and if so, how much)

  • if regular instalments are being offered or paid, an explanation of why they are not acceptable

  • how the debt can be paid or how to proceed if the tenant wants to discuss payment options

The landlord must enclose:

  • an up-to-date statement of account for the debt including interest or other charges that have been added. If no statement is provided, or is not fully up to date, the letter of claim must state the amount of interest and other charges imposed since the debt was incurred or since the statement was provided

  • the required regulatory information sheet containing advice on responding to the letter of claim, and a list of organisations offering free debt advice

  • the Reply Form at Annex 1 to the Protocol

  • a financial statement form (an example is provided at Annex 2 to the Protocol)

The letter of claim should be clearly dated towards the top of the first page and posted on that date. If it is not possible to send on that date, it should be sent the following day. The letter should be sent by post, but may in addition be emailed.

Emailing alone is acceptable if the debtor has explicitly requested not to receive correspondence by post.

Response and time scales

The tenant should use the Reply Form sent by the landlord to respond to the letter of claim. Where the tenant does not return a Reply Form, the landlord may start court proceedings no sooner than 30 days from the date on the letter of claim, but should bear in mind that a form may have been posted towards the end of the 30 days.

In response, the tenant may request copies of any documents they consider relevant, and the landlord should either provide these or explain why they cannot be provided.

Where a Reply Form is returned, the landlord must wait for at least 30 days from receiving it before starting court proceedings. However, if the tenant indicates via the Reply Form that they are seeking debt advice, they must be given a reasonable period to obtain it. This could include extending the 30-day period. Also, if the debtor requests copies of relevant documents, the landlord must not start court proceedings any sooner than 30 days from the date they provide those documents.

If the tenant indicates on their Reply Form that they need time to pay, the landlord should try to reach agreement on an instalment plan with them, basing the repayment figures on the provisions of the Standard Financial Statement (or equivalent guidance). The Standard Financial Statement is a universal income and expenditure statement which contains a set of spending guidelines. The landlord must give reasons in writing for any refusal to accept a repayment offer.

See the Money Advice Service for information on Standard Financial Statements.

A landlord should contact the tenant if the tenant’s Reply Form is incomplete to discuss the debt further.

If discussion following the return of a reply form does not result in agreement, the landlord should usually give at least 14 days notice of their intention to start court proceedings.

Postponing legal action

A landlord must not start a debt claim while the tenant complies with any agreement reached. If the landlord wants to start proceedings at a later date they must comply afresh with the Protocol, including sending a new letter of claim.

Alternative dispute resolution

If landlord and tenant cannot agree on any aspect of the debt, they must consider using alternative dispute resolution. This may simply involve further discussion and negotiation, or could be more formal.

Compliance and sanctions

A landlord may be required by the court to explain how they have complied with the protocol. The court will be concerned with compliance in substance with the terms, and is less likely to concerned with minor or technical breaches.

The court takes into account non-compliance when giving directions for the management of proceedings and when making an order for costs.[2]

Specialist debt advice support with debt cases

Shelter's Specialist Debt Advice Service provides advice to debt professionals in England and Wales, including:

  • Local Citizens Advice

  • local authorities

  • housing associations

  • all other free to client advice agencies

If you are dealing with a tricky debt case and need help to find an answer, or you want a second opinion, call the helpline on 03300 580 404 or submit an online enquiry using the webform.

This service can't advise members of the public. Use Money Helper to find a debt adviser.

Last updated: 29 March 2021


  • [1]

    The Pre-action Protocol for Debt Claims is available at

  • [2]

    Practice Direction - Pre-action conduct and protocols, Ministry of Justice.