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Step 1: try to settle your dispute

This advice applies to England

There are court rules that you must follow before starting legal action. Some of them are in the 'pre-action protocol'.

One of the rules says you should write a letter to whoever discriminated against you to say you're going to start legal action. This is called a 'letter before action'. You should do this if you have time before the court deadline.

Writing a letter before action could mean that you can resolve your dispute without having to to court. Even if you don’t manage to resolve it, writing the letter helps show you've tried to.

The pre-action protocol says that going to court should be a last resort. You can check the protocol on GOV.UK. If you don't follow the protocol, the court might make you pay extra legal costs.

If you don’t have time before the court deadline to write a letter before action and get a reply, you can go straight to filling in the claim form and send it to the court with your court fee. This could give you time to send a letter to the other side to try to resolve the case and reduce the risk of you having to pay extra costs.

You’ll need to ask the court to issue the claim but not serve it. This means they’ll stamp your form but won’t send it to the other side. If you want to continue with your claim, you’ll need to serve the form on the other side within 4 months. The rules on what you need to do and when in order to serve the claim form are in the Civil Procedure Rules Parts 6 and 7.

Writing a letter before action

If you’ve already made a complaint, you could base the letter on that.

Your letter should include:

  • the words ‘letter before action’ at the top
  • your name and address
  • a summary of the facts
  • the basis of your claim - this includes the type of discrimination you think has happened and the sections of the Equality Act 2010 that apply  
  • what you want to happen - if you’re asking for money, say how much you want and how you calculated that amount, if you’re asking for a reasonable adjustments, say what it is
  • that they need to reply within  a certain time - this should give them a ‘reasonable period’ of time, say 14 days in a straightforward case
  • that you’ll start court proceedings if they don’t reply

You must also send to the other side key documents which are relevant to the claim.

Keep a copy of the letter and copies of any documents that you’ve sent. Ask the Post Office for free proof of postage - you might need to prove when you sent your letter.

If you haven't had a reply after 14 working days, you can start legal action by filling in the claim form.

If they reply but you don’t agree, you can start legal action but you’ll need to show the court you’ve done everything you can to avoid going to court. If the court thinks you’ve gone to court before you’ve followed these rules, you might have to pay the other side’s costs.

Reaching an agreement out of court

It’s a good idea to keep speaking to the other side once you’ve started legal action. You might be able to reach an agreement with them. The pre-action protocol encourages parties to try to settle their case if they can.

If you do, you can stop the legal process - this is called settling. The court might encourage you to try to settle.

You can negotiate even if you’ve tried to reach a settlement before you started legal action.

If you’ve already made your claim you could ask the other side to pay your legal costs and court fees as part of the settlement too.

You should always say what you’re suggesting is “without prejudice save as to costs”. This usually means the court can’t see these discussions when deciding the outcome of your case. They would still be able to see them later on to decide who pays the legal costs.

The court also has a formal process you can follow to try to get a settlement. This called a ‘Part 36’ settlement. You can use this before or after your case has been allocated to a court ‘track’ - unless it’s in the small claims track. Read more about court tracks.

To get a Part 36 settlement you need to write to your landlord giving your settlement offer and a time limit for them to accept or refuse it. You’d explain if it relates to the whole of the claim or part of it and whether you’re making a counterclaim. You’d also explain the costs and what would happen if they accept or refuse.

There are more rules you need to follow if you’re making a Part 36 offer - find out more about part 36 settlements on GOV.UK.

You don’t have to use the Part 36 process - you can make an offer to settle your case in whichever way you choose.

Keep copies of any letters or notes of conversations where you suggested settling the case or going to mediation. You can use these later if you do go to court. If you agree a settlement, get it in writing - you’ll then have a record.

Getting a settlement approved by the court

You should ask the court to approve the agreement you’ve reached. This means it makes an order on the terms that you have agreed and both sides need to stick to it. If one side doesn’t keep to the order, the other side can take action to enforce it.

You’ll need to:

  • use form N244 to ask the court for a ‘consent order’
  • agree with the other side what the order should say and send a draft to the court with your application
  • pay a fee to the court - this is usually £100
  • decide which party is going to make the application and pay the fee

You can ask the court to deal with your application without a hearing to save time and costs. If the court can’t deal with your application without a hearing you might be asked to go to court.

Try mediation

If you still can’t sort out your problem, you could ask a mediator to help. A mediator is someone who’s trained to help people resolve disagreements. They won’t take sides. Check if you have to pay for one or agree to share the cost with the other side so before you start.

In most cases mediation will be binding - this means you agree to comply with the decision so you won’t be able to go to court to try to get a different decision. You could start mediation before or after taking court action.

If you’ve already started court action, starting mediation could pause the action (the legal term for this is ‘stayed’). You’ll need to use form N244 to ask the court for this pause and pay a court fee.

The court could also order that you go to mediation and pause the court action in the meantime. If it does, you won’t need to pay a court fee.

If you ask the other side to consider mediation and they refuse, you should ask the judge to take this into account when deciding how to deal with the case and in particular who will pay the costs.

Mediation isn’t compulsory so you can’t be forced to do it but if the other side asks you to consider it and you refuse, you risk the court either ordering that you do or that you pay the other side’s costs even if you win your case. You don’t have to continue with mediation if it isn’t working.

Finding a mediator

Check your local council’s website to see if they can help you find a mediator - they might help even if you’re not a council tenant. You can find your local council on GOV.UK

If you still need help, you can look for a mediator on GOV.UK.

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