What is a small claim?
Usually, if the value of a claim is less than £10,000 and the facts of the case are not complex, then the court will allocate the case to the small claims track. On the small claims track, even where a party wins at court, they generally cannot recover their legal costs from the losing party. Claimants can therefore avoid the risk of having to pay high legal costs where the value of their claim is relatively low.
The most common types of claim that arise in the small claims court are:
recovery of a debt
failure to supply goods
How do I start a small claim?
Before making a claim you should write to the other party explaining why you believe you have a claim and what you are expecting them to do to. You should try, where possible and appropriate to negotiate a settlement. Issuing a claim in the court should be seen as a last resort. To start a claim in the court the Claimant must fill in a Claim Form. This is a standard document which can be obtained from the Court Service website. Alternatively you can go to your local County Court Office and they will be able to provide you with a copy of the Claim Form and Guidance Notes about how to fill it in. On the Claim Form you must set out the brief facts and legal basis for your claim.
Once you have completed the Claim Form you should make copies of the form for:
each Defendant (if there is more than one)
You should then send the appropriate amount of copies to the County Court Money Claims Centre to be sealed. The court will arrange to send the Claim Form to the Defendant, keep a copy for the court’s records and return a sealed copy of the claim for you to keep. There is a court fee for starting the claim, which you should send to the court with the Claim Form. The court fee depending on the amount of money you are claiming. The precise fee can be found on the Court Service website or by telephoning your local County Court. You can also start a claim online, for which there are reduced court fees. Simply go to https://www.moneyclaim.gov.uk/web/mcol/welcome and register and follow the instructions.
What happens after I have issued a claim?
The Defendant has three options:
Admit the claim in full
Dispute the claim in full
Admit part of the claim and dispute part of the claim
If the Defendant wishes to dispute whole or part of the claim they will have to file a defence with the court and there is a set time limit for them to do this. If the Defendant does not respond to the Claim Form at all within the set time limit, you can apply to the court for a “default judgment” against the Defendant, which makes an order that the Defendant pay you the full amount you have claimed because no response to your claim has been received. If the Defendant does defend the claim and the case cannot be settled, the case will proceed to a hearing. In preparing for the hearing, you should comply with any directions the court might give, for example supplying documents to the court and the Defendant by a certain date. A small claims hearing is usually fairly informal, and may take place in the judge’s room rather than in a formal court room. There will not be a jury, however hearings are usually public, which means that members of the public are allowed to sit and listen if they wish. The judge will sit behind a desk and give each of the parties an opportunity to put their argument forward.
You must remember that you will be required to prove your claim and the court will want to see copies of any relevant documents, for example letters or receipts. You should send have already sent these to the court by the time it gets to the trial date but make sure you take spares with you on the day of the hearing in case the court require any additional copies.
Some final points to consider:
There is always a risk in bringing a court claim that you might lose.
Even if you win at court you might still have problems recovering money from the Defendant, particularly if they are heavily in debt and have lots of other creditors.
If you obtain a judgment against the Defendant and the Defendant fails to pay, you must go through the court’s enforcement procedure, which will mean that you will incur added court fees. The court will not automatically take steps to make sure you are paid.
Litigation can often be stressful and time consuming and should be seen as a last resort.
If the facts of your case are complex or involve personal injury, or the value of your claim is more than £10,000 you should seek legal advice before issuing a claim yourself.