How to take someone to the small claims court

If a person or company has cost you money, for example because of an unpaid debt, broken promise, or bad service, one option is to go to small claims court.

The idea of ​​the small claims court is that it is a simple, low-cost way to deal with claims of up to £10,000 without the need for expensive lawyers.

But small claims court is not a physical courtroom. It is a part, or “track,” of the district court system. This is a civil court, as opposed to criminal.

While small claims court is meant to be open and accessible to everyone, there are some limitations and potential pitfalls to be aware of.

Here’s everything you need to know about using small claims court.

Holding court: The small claims court is a part of physical district courts, such as this one in Oxford

How much can I claim?

How much you can claim depends on where you live. In England and Wales the limit is £10,000, although some judges allow higher claims.

In Scotland the limit is £5,000 and in Northern Ireland £3,000.

For claims above any of these amounts, plaintiffs must use the higher district court ‘tracks’ – the fast track and multi track.

A spokesperson for the charity Citizens Advice said: ‘You can make a small claim of up to £10,000 if you have a problem with something you’ve paid for, such as poor service or a faulty product. You can also file a small claim if you have paid for a service or product that you have not received.’

But even then, a judge may say that your claim should be heard by a higher court.

Consumer experts Which? said, “Even if your claim falls within the limit, a judge may rule that the case cannot be treated as a small claim if it is deemed too complex.”

How do I file a small claims court action?

You must first apply for the money you owe. You can do this online or through downloading and submitting an N1 form.

Claimants must explain and prove their claim, including showing all possible evidence.

The Citizens Advice spokesman said: ‘If you don’t have good evidence you don’t have a strong claim and it might not be a good idea to start one.

Gather any documents or photos you have to support your claim. It may help you to list what happened in order of date and then find evidence to back it up.”

Once you submit the claim, the other party normally has 14 days to respond. They can agree to cash out right away.

Otherwise, they can file a defense or an “acknowledgment of service” – basically a formal way of saying they are aware of the claim.

They then have 14 days to submit their defence.

If the other party does not respond, the court may decide to allow all or part of your claim. Otherwise you will be told a date for the court decision.

Normally, this decision takes place in one day. However, there are currently huge backlogs in handling cases.

According to figures from the Ministry of Justice for the first three months of 2023, the average waiting time before a case goes to court is 51.9 weeks.

You will probably have to go to a district court in person to take your case to a judge.

However, you may not need to come to court at all if the judge decides that the case can be decided without a physical presence.

If you disagree with the outcome, you can appeal within 21 days.

How much is it?

At a minimum, there are court fees when using small claims court.

How much you pay depends on how much you want to claim.

For example, claims up to £300 will be charged £35. For claims of £1,000 a fee of £80 is payable and for claims of £10,000 – the maximum – the fee is £455.

If you win, you will be refunded these fees by the opposing team, but you will have to pay them up front.

If you need to hire an attorney, it can add a significant amount to the cost of using small claims court.

If you win, the other party may also be told to pay certain expenses, such as travel expenses and any expert witness fees.

However, if you lose, the same principle applies.

What are the alternatives to small claims court?

Ideally, even small claims court should be the last resort. Before taking the legal route, it is best to try to resolve the complaint personally with the other party.

If your claim is against a financial firm, the Financial Ombudsman may be able to assist you.

Another judicial alternative is mediation, where a professional tries to help find a solution between both parties without going through the legal route.

You may be asked to do this as part of the small claims court proceedings. It’s a good idea to do this.

Not only is judicial mediation normally free, but if you refuse mediation, a judge can charge you for it.

If you have a low income or receive an income-related benefit, you can ask for help with court costs.

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