The smallest, but most important step in the litigation process

Psychologically, the letter of demand conveys to your opponent that you are not afraid to litigate should your demands not be taken seriously.

Generally, there are no hard and fast rules when it comes to making demands of your opponent. It is however recommended that you briefly detail the circumstances surrounding your demand, using polite, formal language, and clearly stipulate the time frame within which your opponent is to make payment of monies owed, perform a specific obligation or to refrain from conducting himself in a certain manner.

The tone of your demand can also steer the response in a number of directions. Strong but amenable language may express a willingness to enter into settlement negotiations, open a dialog between the parties and preserve relationships. An unwavering ultimatum may be effective in eliciting a result should your opponent fear the cost and implications of litigation.

Although it is not always necessary to issue a demand before initiating legal proceedings, the benefit of reaching a swift and amicable resolution without incurring unnecessary legal costs cannot be overlooked.

Of course, it is possible that your demand may antagonise an opponent who feels they have done no wrong or who simply refuses to meet your demands. While the demand would then be the trigger which set the litigation process in motion, it no doubt expedited what would otherwise have been an inevitable delay and continued refusal on the part of your opponent, with the added benefit of framing the issues in dispute in a letter which can later be placed before the court.

There are certain instances where a formal demand is prescribed by law or required in terms of a written agreement between the parties. These may include actions against the State, contractual disputes, evictions and certain matters which are governed by the National Credit Act No. 34 of 2005 or the Consumer Protection Act No. 68 of 2008.

Click here for an overview of the debt collection process and to learn more about the possible responses to your letter of demand.