county court sign

ACSO: New legal claims processing centre can’t stop lengthening delays to civil justice

Posted on Thu, 17/08/2023


Severe delays at the government’s new Civil National Business Centre (CNBC) are contributing to a damaging sclerosis in civil justice, according to the Association of Consumer Support Organisations (ACSO). 

The CNBC replaced the County Court Money Claims Centre (CCMCC) on 14 August as part of the HM Courts and Tribunals Service (HMCTS) plan for the transfer of civil administration work from Salford to Northampton. 

As the bulk processing centre handling in effect the first triage stages of civil claims before they are transferred out to regional county courts around England and Wales, the CNBC provides the gateway to civil justice for the majority of county court users. Matthew Maxwell Scott, executive director of ACSO, which represents the interests of consumers in the civil justice system, said delays are currently getting worse.  

ACSO has have been monitoring the weekly performance data published online by HMCTS for both the CCMCC and the CNBC, and data published on 14/08/2023 (i) show that timeframes for the completion of key court processes are lengthening.


Number of working before process begins as of 19/05/2023

Number of working days before process begins as of 14/08/2023

Issue of new court claim on paper


40* (*This statistic is as of 08/08/23)

Defence or counterclaim to issuing the directions questionnaire on paper



Processing a directions questionnaire



Correspondence received by post and email



Total processing time from receipt of application to order or comment being typed



ACSO Analysis

The above HMCTS data show that between May and August 2023, the number of working days taken by the CNBC just to start the process of a new claim on paper has increased by 3 to 40. Meanwhile in just the last three months, the timeframe for processing a defence or counterclaim to issuing a directions questionnaire on paper has increased from 22 to 34 working days.

Worse still, the timeframes for processing a directions questionnaire or correspondence received by post or email have almost doubled over the three months, increasing from 29 and 26 working days respectively in May to 50 working days for each now.

The longest period for the start of a processing time is from receipt of an application to an order or comment being typed, which has now reached 82 working days, or around four months.

Matthew Maxwell Scott said:

“The current CNBC delays are having a substantial impact on the overall county court timelines, as reflected in the civil justice quarterly statistics.

“Processing delays have been getting longer and longer for some time. Across a number of public institutions, from the DVLA to the UK Border Force, we’ve seen a rapid deterioration in service quality in recent times. Civil justice may not have the same political profile, but the problems are just as acute and the impact on consumers, often in a very vulnerable position, is simply unacceptable.

“HMCTS needs a clear plan to start reducing processing times. We saw how the government managed to get a grip of failures in the Passport Office amid a media outcry and bring about significant improvements in processing times; we urge ministers to adopt a similar no-nonsense approach to our civil justice system.”

Maxwell Scott explained that ACSO has also flagged problems with the design and current operation of the recently launched Damages Claims Portal and has sought out every available opportunity to engage with and collaborate with HMCTS to improve the portal’s functionality.

He said: “Better design and IT build of the Damages Claims Portal could have substantially reduced the amount of correspondence sent to the CNBC and also ensured more claims remained within the online portal process for longer, so reducing the current civil justice timeframes consumers and their representatives have experienced.

“Frankly, this has been a lost opportunity by HMCTS to use the Damages Claims Portal as a key route to reducing the civil justice backlog and litigation timelines, but we believe things can be turned around.”

Official statistics (ii) show that consumers using the civil justice system are waiting on average a year for their small claim to reach the court, and around 18 months for a higher-value claim.

ACSO is campaigning for the Ministry of Justice to make civil justice its priority this year, and will shortly be issuing further research that underscores the civil justice challenges facing ministers and their impact on consumers.