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A business takes legal action against you to recover losses for theft

If you are accused of causing a business to lose money, they might take civil legal action against you to get compensation. This means that they might try to take you to court to get back money they have lost. On this page you can find out about what might happen, and what you can do if you receive a demand for payment.

A business might try to claim compensation from you if:

  • you are accused of shoplifting
  • your employer accuses you of theft
  • your employer accuses you of negligence, for example, damaging goods.

You may have received a demand for payment from Retail Loss Prevention or Drydens lawyers who both act on behalf of many retailers in the UK.

A business might take civil action to get compensation from you instead of criminal action, or they might do this as well as bringing criminal charges against you. If you are accused of theft, the business can still take civil action for compensation against you, even if they have recovered the goods they claim you stole.

The business can only claim compensation from you if they can prove in court that they're entitled to it. For example, if you have been accused of theft, the business must prove that you committed the theft. The standard of proof is lower in the civil courts than it is in the criminal courts, so it may be easier for the business to prove their case against you.

What losses can be claimed by the business?

The business could claim money from you for:

  • the amount of cash or goods stolen
  • the cost of staff investigating what happened
  • any other costs of investigating what happened
  • administration costs
  • legal costs
  • other costs related to what happened, for example security costs.

It must be reasonable for the business to claim these costs from you.

If the business is claiming the cost of staff investigating what happened, administration or security costs, they have to prove how much these were in your case. The business can't claim fixed costs for these.

What can I do if I get a demand for payment?

If the business takes civil action to get compensation from you, you will get a letter from them saying that you have to pay this compensation. The letter will say that if you don't pay, the business will take legal action in the County Court, or Sheriff Court in Scotland, to get the money back. This can often be quite shocking or worrying. But if you receive a letter like this, there are options open to you.

You will need to decide whether or not you pay the demand immediately. There are lots of things that might affect your decision.

You will need to think about how strong the case is against you. This may depend on things like:

  • the strength of the evidence against you
  • whether you have admitted guilt by accepting a caution
  • whether the losses being claimed are reasonable.

You will need to consider how strong the case is against the possibility that the business won't take any more action. One reason they may not take any more action is that they don't want to spend more money going to court when you may not be able to pay. However, there is no guarantee that the business will not take court action against you.

When you are deciding what to do, it is important that you get advice from an experienced adviser as soon as possible, for example at a Citizens Advice Bureau. An adviser will help you work out which is the best option for you, and what to do next. To search for details of your nearest CAB, including those that can give advice by email, click on nearest CAB.

If you get a letter demanding payment for losses, these are some of the things you could do:

  • ignore the letter – if you do this you are taking the chance that the business won't take any further legal action against you. However, you will probably get more letters demanding payment, and threatening court action against you
  • deny liability for the amount being claimed – this means telling the business that you don't owe them the money. If you wish to do this, you should get advice from an experienced adviser
  • make an offer of payment – if you think that the business will be able to bring a successful claim against you for the money, you might want to make an offer of payment to them. If you decide to do this you must send a first letter to them denying liability for the amount being claimed. After this, you can send a second letter making an offer of payment. You should clearly mark this letter Without prejudice. In this letter you can outline any personal circumstances such as medical problems or financial problems
  • pay up in full – if you want to be sure there will be no future court action you can decide to pay up in full. If you want to do this you might be able to negotiate with the business to pay in instalments. To do this you can write to the business, offering what you think you can afford. You should also send them some evidence of your financial situation, like a benefits letter or a wage slip.

When you are deciding what to do, you should get advice from an experienced adviser, for example at a Citizens Advice Bureau. They will be able to tell you more about the options you have, and what's best for you. They may also be able to help you write letters to the business. To search for details of your nearest CAB, including those that can give advice by email, click on nearest CAB.

What can I do if the business takes me to court?

If a business decides to take you to court, you will need to get legal advice from an experienced adviser, for example at a Citizens Advice Bureau or from a solicitor. You should get advice as soon as possible. You may also have been dismissed from your job and may need to get advice on your rights. To search for details of your nearest CAB, including those that can give advice by email, click on nearest CAB.

In Scotland, for more information about finding a solicitor, see Using a solicitor.

You should bear in mind that if the case goes to court and you are proved to be in the wrong, you may have to pay legal costs as well as the money the business is claiming.

Dishonesty Register

You may have been told by Retail Loss Prevention that your details will be kept on a national database of incidents of dishonesty.

They may also have told you that the information can be used by companies, for example in making a decision about whether to employ you.

You have a right to find out what information is held about you on the database. Any information held about you on the database must have been proven, relevant and relate to you.

To find out more about your rights or if you feel you have been affected by the information held on the database, you can ask the Information Commissioner to investigate the matter. 

Further help

In England, Wales and Northern Ireland, for more information about cases in the county court, see County court.

In Scotland, for more information about cases in the sheriff court, see Sheriff court.

In England and Wales, for more information about legal costs, see Help with legal costs.

In Northern Ireland, for more information about legal costs, see Help with legal costs.

In Scotland, for more information about legal costs, see Help with legal costs.

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