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What Can You Do If Someone Owes You Money and Refuses to Pay?

Whether you are a business or an individual, if you are owed money by someone who refuses to pay there are a multitude of legal options to help you.

It is always recommended to try to informally settle your dispute first. Firmly reminding the business or individual that they owe you money, why and how much is often enough to resolve many debts. In the best-case scenarios, you can come to an agreement on repayment that works for both sides. If you can’t come to an agreement personally, you can try a mediation service.

If they still refuse to pay, don’t let the situation get heated. Depending on how much you are owed, there are legal routes you can go down. This includes making an official demand, issuing a County Court claim, and much more. We always recommend seeking expert dispute resolution advice at an early stage as this can significantly boost your chances of securing repayment quickly and relatively painlessly.

Want to know more about your debt recovery options? We have answered some of the most common questions people ask, so you can decide what to do next with confidence.

When someone owes you money and won’t pay, what can you do legally?

If a relative, friend, ex-partner or even employer owes you money, you can potentially take legal action against them. There are many different ways that you can legally claim what you are owed.

Common debt recovery options include:


If you have tried to reach an amicable agreement but it is getting more heated, or the person who owes you is avoiding the claim, mediation can be a good way to inexpensively reach a conclusion.

Although mediation is not free, it’s much cheaper than going to court and generally a lot faster. This process involves the parties and their solicitors meeting to agree a way forward. In this situation, a solicitor will be able to help you understand your legal rights and find the best solution for you.

Outcomes might include full immediate repayment, partial payment or a payment plan.

Statutory demand

If you are unable to reach a conclusion through mediation, as long as the debt is undisputed, then you can make a statutory demand.

A statutory demand involves writing a formal demand for what you are owed. Once it is received, they will have 21 days to pay, or you may use the statutory demand to petition the court for a winding-up order or a bankruptcy order.

Within the 21 days, an individual may choose to apply to have the debt set aside and a business can take measures to prevent a winding-up petition going ahead.

You should get a specialist debt recovery solicitor to write the statutory demand for you to ensure it is drafted effectively and that every detail is correctly covered in case further action is needed.

County Court claims

Depending on how much you are owed, going to court might be the best way for you to claim a debt. There is no minimum amount you can claim for, however the lowest amount you will pay in court fees is £35, so to claim for anything under that would mean you were losing money.

Unlike mediation or a statutory demand, going to court can cost you anywhere between £35 to £10,000 in Court fees, so it is important to ensure you have exhausted these options before deciding to make a claim.

You can find out what court fees to expect on the government website.

Bankruptcy proceedings 

If you are owed over £5,000 by an individual like a relative, friend or employer, you can use bankruptcy proceedings to attempt to claim the money you are owed. This process can be an emotional decision to make if it is a friend or relative who owes you money.

When a bankruptcy order is made, the subject of the order must provide an official receiver with information about their finances, assets and income. They will also have to declare that they are bankrupt to anyone who offers them a loan over £500 and appear in court to explain why they have not repaid their debt to you.

Under bankruptcy orders, assets and finances can be seized to pay off the debt. However, there is no guarantee the proceeds will be enough to cover the debt you are owed. Also, it is important to bear in mind that, if the debtor owes other people money, those other debts could be prioritised over your own.

A company winding-up petition

In the event that a company owes you more than £750 and you can prove that they cannot pay you back, you can apply to the court for a winding-up petition.

If your application to wind up a company is successful, its assets will be sold and the proceeds will be used towards settling the business’s debts. As with bankruptcy, however, there is no guarantee the money raised will cover what you are owed and the business may owe other debts which could be prioritised over your own.

How to prove someone owes you money?

Ideally, when someone owes you money you would have both signed a contract or other agreement stating how much is owed and when it needed to be repaid. 

However, when lending money to an individual or even a business, you don’t always sign a contract. In this case, you can provide the court with other evidence to back up your claim.

For example:

  • Bounced checks
  • Unpaid invoices
  • Text messages, emails, letters, etc that show you chasing the debt. 
  • Bank payments
  • Account history 
  • Evidence regarding your income and saving to show money lent was not a gift
  • Witnesses

If someone owes you money, can you go to the police?

In the event that you have lent money to an individual or business and they have refused to pay you back, the police will not get involved. As it is a civil matter, they will most likely direct you to Citizens Advice.

If, however, you have been robbed or threatened, please contact the authorities.

How long do you have to claim money you are owed?

For most debts you have 6 years to make a claim. However, in certain circumstances, for example a mortgage payment, this may differ. After this time, if you have not made a claim, the debt may be statute barred and the individual or company may not have to pay you back.

Get in touch with our business recovery and insolvency solicitors

For expert advice from a team of dedicated business recovery and insolvency solicitors, get in touch with our corporate insolvency partner Tim Flower by giving us a call or emailing

You can also use our simple interest calculator to help you work out exactly how much you are owed.