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How To Fill Out Your Directions Questionnaire: A Basic Guide

Updated: 14 March 2024

Are you stuck filling out the form? Do you need clarification about Forms N180 and N181? Simple mistakes by litigants in person can be costly, even with a valid claim. The following guides the key questions and tips on completing the Directions Questionnaire.

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People defending their claims ask for help when they receive the Directions Questionnaire. Before completing the Directions Questionnaire, the self-represented litigant (also known as a litigant in person or a LIP) must check that they have correctly drafted the claim, defence, and counterclaim.

Simple Things To Check Before Going Further

Below is a non-exhaustive list of things that can go awry when litigants in person draft their own Directions Questionnaire, claims and defences, generally focusing on contract claims.

If any of these issues arise in your case, you need to address them quickly and certainly before submitting the Directions Questionnaire. If you don’t, these issues may lead to losing the case and/or being ordered to pay the other side’s costs.

Even if you have a good claim, these ‘technicalities’ are crucial for properly completing and filing the Directions Questionnaire. Don’t expect the court to take a broad-brush approach. This ‘common sense’ approach will often be outside the court’s jurisdiction.

Here are points you should clarify before submitting your Directions Questionnaire. These apply to the questionnaires for both Form N180 and Form N181.

  • Has the relevant pre-action protocol been followed? If not, the defaulting party may incur a cost penalty even if they have a good claim.
  • Is the claim subject to an agreement to arbitrate? If so, the claim can be stayed, and the claimant ordered to pay the costs.
  • Does the claim, defence and counterclaim identify the correct legal person? For example, has your claim or Directions Questionnaire incorrectly named an individual as a party instead of the limited company or vice versa? Ensure you have not put the name of the unincorporated business instead of the individual who runs the business. For example, if John Smith runs the Kings Head as a sole trader and owes you money, then the defendant should be John Smith, not the Kings Head.
  • Has the invoice been addressed to the defendant, and is the legal person who agreed the same as the legal person invoiced and claimed against? This matters even if the individual is the sole shareholder and director of the limited company. You cannot usually sue the individual for a breach by their limited company.
  • Has the amount claimed fallen due and/or been demanded appropriately under the agreement?
  • Is the claim beyond the statutory limitation period? Generally, for breach of contract claims, you have six years from the date of the first breach to bring a claim.
  • Has the loss already been recovered, or is it a loss to a third party rather than the claimant?
  • Is the claim for betterment? For example, is the claim for a new vehicle’s cost when the damaged goods were already 5 years old?
  • Does the contract exclude liability for the loss being claimed? If so, is it an unfair term or a penalty clause that the court can strike out?
  • Have any notice requirements or condition precedents within the contract been complied with?
  • Does any special legislation apply? For example, the Housing Grants Construction and Regeneration Act 1996 will apply to most construction contracts where neither party is a residential occupier within the meaning of that act.
  • Has the matter already been decided by another court?
  • Does the claim and defence give the court enough information to identify the claimant, the defendant, the agreement, the terms performed, the terms that are breached and an explanation of how the breach led to a recoverable loss?
  • Has the loss been calculated and articulated in the claim?
  • Have you considered your potential liability for your opponent’s legal costs if your claim or defence is unsuccessful? Your cost liability depends on when the claim was issued, which track it gets allocated to and the contractual terms. It can also be affected by part 36 offers.
  • Can you cover the court fees and expert fees? Costs are at the court’s discretion, but the usual position is ordering the losing party to pay the winner’s court fees and expert fees (to a limited amount on certain tracks).
  • Are any of the parties insolvent?

The Directions Questionnaire

The rules governing Civil Litigation must be followed at all times. Recent case law suggests that the courts may make only a small allowance for unrepresented parties ignorant of the rules. As such, when submitting your Directions Questionnaire, all documents and facts must be in place.

You can get the Protocols, Civil Procedure Rules and Practice Directions from this link if you represent yourself.

As stated previously, there are two Directions Questionnaires, depending on the size of the claim: Form N180 and Form N181.

You can find Form N180 here: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/form-n180-directions-questionnaire-small-claims-track.

You can find Form N181 here: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/form-n181-directions-questionnaire-fast-track-and-multi-track.

Form N180

The Form N180 Directions Questionnaire is slightly shorter than the Form N181. It applies to claims that the court usually allocates to the Small Claims Track, these are claims that are worth less than £10,000 or which are not especially complex. The directions for the Form N180 questionnaire are relatively straightforward, but it is essential to be as accurate as possible to avoid later issues. The Form N181 contains “Notes” on the right-hand side to help both parties complete it.

Form N180 will ask the involved parties if they agree to the case referral to the Small Claims Mediation Service and explain the service.

The parties are expected to attempt to settle claims without going to trial, but this does not mean you must make or accept a settlement offer. Still, you must give settlement offers serious consideration and consider whether you can settle the matter without going to trial- trial should be the last resort. Additionally, the parties must not unreasonably refuse mediation, so you should try to negotiate via mediation even if you have previously tried and failed.

Suppose you do not have a good reason to refuse mediation (for example, you have already tried to mediate and failed). In that case, agreeing to a referral to the Small Claims Mediation Service is a good idea. You have little to lose and cannot be forced to agree on something you’re unhappy with. An unreasonable refusal to mediate or negotiate can result in sanctions, including where you might get ordered to pay the other side’s costs if you’re considered to have acted unreasonably.

We are happy to assist you if you’d like additional help filling out the N180 Directions Questionnaire.

Form N181

For more significant claims- those more complex or worth more than £10,000- these will be allocated to one of the fast-track, intermediate track or multi-track; the Directions Questionnaire is Form N181.

The fast-track covers disputes between £10,000 and £25,000. The intermediate track covers disputes over £25,000 up to £100,000, and the multi-track is for incredibly complex disputes typically over £100,000. It can be possible for lower-value but incredibly complex cases to get allocated to the multi-track, and it can also be possible for high-value simple cases to get allocated to the intermediate track.

Track allocation is important because it impacts cost recovery- fixed recoverable costs now apply to fast-track and intermediate-track claims, meaning the amount you will recover if you win, or which you will get ordered to pay if you lose, is fixed. We’d be happy to discuss your situation if we can help. In reality, fears around costs and cost recovery are important drivers towards settlement in any litigation or dispute.

In the higher value, more complex disputes of fast-track, intermediate track and multi-track, Form N181 is used to help the court understand what is involved or is likely to be needed to help manage the steps required before trial. Form N181 asks the parties to provide basic information to enable the court to decide which steps (directions) it will order the parties to follow to prepare the case for an adequate trial.

The Form N181 should be filed with draft directions. Draft directions should be prepared in a manner relevant to your specific circumstances and with your dispute in mind. Standard directions can be used and adapted as a starting point, but care needs taking to ensure the appropriate content considerations. Cases are won or lost on the strength of evidence awareness and subtlety. For example, in a dispute where expert evidence is needed to confirm or disprove an allegation- if there is no direction for permission to obtain or rely on expert evidence, it can be possible to cause an opponent difficulty in their claim or defence. This issue may become apparent later (even before the trial). Standard directions vary between tracks. Some versions are found here: https://www.justice.gov.uk/courts/procedure-rules/civil/standard-directions/list-of-cases-of-common-occurrence.

Below, we provide some guidance on specific sections of the Form N181. The letters for each paragraph below correspond to the letters used in Form N181.

A. This item on the Directions Questionnaire asks whether the parties want to stay in the court process for several weeks or months to give the parties time for mediation or other negotiations. An unreasonable refusal to mediate or negotiate could result in an adverse cost order.

Suppose you’re considering rejecting mediation or an offer by the other side to stay proceedings. In that case, you should seek the advice of a specialist litigation lawyer to see if your refusal is appropriate and unlikely to harm you on costs.

You can tick “yes” to wanting to attempt to settle but “no” to a one-month stay. A stay or pause might seem unnecessary, but in reality, it might be that some time is valuable and is needed for the arrangements to be made- for example, you might need some additional time to obtain information or prepare disclosure. You can use ‘stay’ time to continue your trial preparation simultaneously to try to negotiate or to mediate.

B. High Court cases can be heard in a district registry nearer to your home in certain circumstances. It might be appropriate for your dispute to get heard by a particular court division like the Companies Court division of the Technology and Construction Court. This section of the Form N181 Directions Questionnaire allows you to ask the court to make a transfer to a different specialist division and/or your preferred hearing centre. On the Directions Questionnaire, you will need to explain why you have asked for a particular hearing centre and you will need to consider if that’s necessary or appropriate.

For all cases, if there is a reason why your claim should be held in a particular court, you can enter that at question 2 and your reason why.

C. You should check to see if a particular pre-action protocol governs the claim, whether followed and, if not, why. The parties should still comply with the Practice Direction Pre-Action Conduct if there is no specific pre-action protocol. The protocols and practice directions can be found at this link. Failure to follow the pre-action protocol can result in cost sanctions and give the non-defaulting party a significant tactical advantage.


D1: If you have applied for this claim or are about to apply, you should confirm the details in section D1 of the Form N181 questionnaire. An example would be an application to amend your particulars of claim.

D2: For this section, you must consider which track your claim should be allocated to. Different tracks have different rules about the recoverability of costs. If your claim was issued before 1 October 2023, your claim is governed by the old Civil Procedure Rules and is, therefore,

(a) subject to the old cost rules;

(b) only allocated to either the fast track or multi-track (not the intermediate track) and

(c) not allocated to a complexity band.

If your claim was issued before 1 October 2023, this court guidance about the differences between the tracks is beneficial. If your claim was issued on or after 1 October 2023, the document may provide some useful general information, but many aspects have since changed without the court document being updated. It may no longer be accurate. You should check if any dates and figures are still applicable. We can assist you with this if you need clarification.

If your claim was issued after 1 October 2023, CPR 26.09 sets out the new rules on track allocation. You can find CPR 26 here: https://www.justice.gov.uk/courts/procedure-rules/civil/rules/part26

In simple terms, there is now greater complexity in tracks- with the intermediate track above being ‘new’, as well as changes to some of the cost rules associated with the various tracks. Again, we can assist you with this if you are uncertain.

D4 asks you to inform the court about which complexity band you think your case should be allocated to on the fast track of intermediate track. This track will likely be most appropriate if your dispute is between £10,000 and £100,000. You do not need to complete this for the multi-track- those claims over £100,000 in value. You can tick “Not applicable” if your claim was issued before 1 October 2023; in the box, you should explain that the complexity bands do not apply to claims issued before October 2023.

Details of which cases fall into which complexity bands are found in CPR 26.15 for the fast track or 26.16 for the intermediate track. You can find CPR 26 here https://www.justice.gov.uk/courts/procedure-rules/civil/rules/part26. Alternatively, we can assist you. Transparently, we charge for our time; however, if you are involved in a dispute worth more than £10,000 and possibly considerably higher, the cost-benefit of you obtaining some advice is likely to fall in favour of at least an initial review and advice on prospects of success, next steps and ways to bolster and improve your claim or defence, and possibly longer-term representation. In disputes at these levels, you risk winning, not maximising your recovery, or losing on a technicality and are ordered to pay the winner’s costs. We’re happy to be flexible in our approach.

D7 and 8 are only applicable to multi-track cases. Multi-track cases are subject to Practice Direction 31B. You should confirm any agreement with your opponent here, if any.

D9 applies to all cases. You are asked to inform the court about what you propose should be the directions for disclosure. The document linked above under D2 provides some useful outline information about what disclosure is.

D10 The usual order for disclosure on multi-track cases is standard disclosure. In claims heard in the High Court there is now increasingly a greater focus on the detail of disclosure to limit what can be incredibly complex and costly exercises, including a Disclosure Review before disclosure occurs. Care and attention are needed in this regard- cases can be won or lost on a party failing to consider or identify a vital issue adequately or to deal with how to address the disclosure of weaknesses or strengths of a case. To understand what disclosure means in simple terms, you must look at CPR 31.5, which describes the circumstances where and how a Disclosure Report, Form N263, should be made. These are crucial tactical stages of any dispute for the above reasons.

D11 Use this section to inform the court if your opponent has reached an agreement.

  1. Often, the court will need expert opinion about a point in issue. For instance, in a dispute about a company share valuation, the expert opinion of a valuer might be required. In a dispute about a building’s quality or need for repair, the expert opinion of an independent building surveyor may be necessary. It is not generally enough to show pictures or have evidence from non-experts on these matters. As the value or complexity of a dispute rises, the quality of the evidence required in support of the allegations also increases. The court will want to see specific directions on what experts are needed, whether there is a single joint expert or whether each side will be allowed their expert. The particular points experts are authorised to report on will also need considering, and the court will also need to decide whether the expert(s) will be required to give oral evidence at trial.

There are no easy answers about the correct approach. Each case turns on its facts. As a general rule, the lower the value of a case, the more likely that the court will order the written report of a single joint expert. Expertise, independence and proportionality are essential to appropriate expert instruction. The specific question or questions for the expert are crucial. Any request made in this section of the Directions Questionnaire must consider this. Further guidance on dealing with expert evidence is in Part 35 of the Civil Procedure Rules and the associated Practice Direction.

F. asks which witness you want to give evidence on your behalf and what facts they witness. You should avoid having multiple witnesses giving the same evidence. The court has the power to limit the number of witnesses. This list is not final; you can add and remove witnesses later, subject to limits set by the court.

You and the witnesses can give evidence in Welsh rather than English. You must notify the court when filing the witness evidence.

G. For the court to understand the likely time estimate for the trial, it is essential that the questionnaire gives the best approximation of which witnesses you intend to call in support of your case. It does not mean you cannot later increase or decrease the number of witnesses or change the selection. However, if a change in the scope of your evidence may result in a lost trial date, you may be unable to introduce extra evidence later. You must give your best estimate in your Directions Questionnaire.

You may need to talk with a specialist solicitor and/or discuss this with your opponent’s solicitors. It is important not to agree to an unrealistic estimate, and that may cause the trial to be adjourned at the last minute.

H. If you are self-represented, you must not fill out this part of the Directions Questionnaire.

I. If you intend to apply, you should say so here on the questionnaire. You can then give the court more information to help the judge manage the claim. This is only an opportunity for you to tell the judge your evidence and why you should win if it is relevant to the management of the claim.

Tactical applications can be an essential tool in simple or complex disputes; forcing your opponent to do, confirm or provide something can open the door to forcing positive outcomes.

You should also include details if you or your witnesses are vulnerable and any support or adjustments you want the court to consider.

J. You must file draft directions with your Directions Questionnaire. Developing draft directions will be challenging for any litigant in person in anything other than the simplest of disputes. We recommend you consult a specialist litigation solicitor who will provide transparent cost information and practical advice. The Form N181 Directions Questionnaire gives links to standard directions for both Fast-Track and Multi-Track. However, you must decide which parts to discard, keep, and amend. Simple guidance is impossible for this part of the Directions Questionnaire as the requirements vary significantly, case by case.

Bottom Line About Directions Questionnaires

We hope this helps self-representing litigants (litigants in person) to fill out your Directions Questionnaire. For all the above reasons, the point where a Directions Questionnaire is received is a moment to take stock and to decide if some professional support and advice might be appropriate. In the heat of the moment, assumptions can be made that anyone can run a claim. Whilst that’s possible, it’s rarely advisable. There can be costs involved and incurred in obtaining advice, but considerable time and more significant liability can be avoided, and (at least) peace of mind obtained. If there are issues it is better they get identified and resolved early. If you are in a strong position there might be opportunities to force home your advantage.

If you still need to read the guidance in Form EX305, we recommend reading this Directions Questionnaires section on pages 2 & 3. Take care with other areas of the form, as the rules have recently changed, and this document still needs to be updated.

As a Litigant in Person, you’ll know that completing a Directions Questionnaire is complex. For further advice regarding Form N180 or Form N181, we can help you with any brief, narrow question for free. There can be considerable complexity in the above factors and answers for the reasons we have touched on above. More detailed questions or situations will take time, and in those situations, we will provide a time and cost estimate for us to assist and advise you on a more formal basis.

Complete the form at the following link with details of your query about your Directions Questionnaire and a member of our specialist commercial team will be happy to assist you.

Posted by:

Alex Cook

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