The Small Claims Court is used by people who are in dispute with others regarding a civil matter. This court does not deal with criminal cases as these are left to the Magistrates and Crown Courts. For instance you may feel that you have been unfairly treated in a consumer matter such as being unable to get compensation when goods have been found to be faulty or you feel you should have had a refund for something you returned. Customers who find themselves at odds with a company because they will not take responsibility for faulty goods can take the company to the Small Claims Court. A solicitor is not required plus the proceedings are heard in an informal setting.
What Types of Claim are heard at the Small Claims Court?
In general the types of claim taken to the small claims court include
- Compensation seekers for faulty goods
- Compensation seekers for bad service provided by tradespeople
- People who take their employer to court for non-payment of wages owed
- Tenants who take landlords to court for not doing repair work
- Landlords who take tenants to court for non-payment of rent
- Parking tickets deemed unfairly issued
How to decide to take a Claim to Court
Before you can take a claim to the Small Claims Court there are procedures you must follow. Firstly you must speak to the person or company you have the dispute with. You have to try to sort the dispute amicably without going to court. If you do not do this it will put you in a bad light as a complainant plus your claim may not be heard.
Once you have spoken to the person and are not satisfied with the outcome you must then put your complaint in writing giving the recipient time to reply. You must also state in the letter that if you do not get a satisfactory reply that you are more than willing to take court action. This means that the recipient has been informed that court may be the next step. Using the Small Claims Court is not however a quick procedure in fact it could be months from lodging your complaint to a judgement being made.
When Can I use The Small Claims Court and How Much Does it Cost?
The Small Claims Court is used for most breach of contract scenarios or consumer disputes. Claims of up to £5000 can be heard in England and Wales, while figures differ in Scotland and Wales being £3000. As long as the case is not too complicated a judge will hear a case but if the judge decides that the case is too involved it may not be heard.
Costs wise it is relatively cheap as you do not need to engage a solicitor as you can put your case before the judge yourself. A fee is payable based on the size of your claim so you need to bear this in mind as the process is not entirely free of charge. For instance
You will pay a fee but usually not higher then £485
The fee may be less and complainants can ask for the defendant to pay the fee
Supporting witnesses may need to be paid for, such as a plumber, should you need them to testify about dodgy workmanship. If you win then again the defendant will have to cover the cost.
Maximum amounts apply. These are up to £200
I can’t use the Small Claims Court What do I do next?
You may be advised that you cannot use the Small Claims Court to solve your dispute. Sometimes cases are far too complex to be judged in this setting. In this case you will have to go to the County Court. This will almost always cost you more, take longer and be a far more in depth business altogether. In most cases you will require a solicitor to represent you which can be costly. Certain cases may be covered by insurance policies you may have taken out that have a legal expenses clause. Claimants need to read the fine print in their policy to determine whether they are covered or not.
How Do I Begin Making a Claim?
Firstly you must follow the Practice Direction on Pre-Action Conduct procedure which means making sure that all the steps contained in the document have been taken before court action is considered. Next make a visit to your local court to collect a claim form plus any other paperwork that outlines the Small Claims Court process.
Once you are sure you are okay to go ahead you can start filling in the form. You need the full name and address of the other party/defendant. You also need to put in writing the details involved in your claim plus the amount that you are claiming. Get as much information and material to support your claim together. The more information you have to support what you are claiming the better. Once all this is completed you can take your forms to court where they will log your claim plus allot it a number.
When you have lodged your claim with the court you can then serve the claim papers on the defendant. This is sometimes done by the court itself but if not it must be done within four months of you registering your claim with the court by sending the forms in the post or serving them by hand to the defendant.
What Happens Once My Claim is lodged?
Once your claim is registered with the court and the defendant has been served with the papers you must give them time to read the documents and reply or make their case for their defence. They may alternatively decide to settle and not proceed further in which case all is good if not they have up to fourteen days to reply once they receive the documents. They can also gain an extra fourteen days to reply by filing an acknowledgement of service form. If the defendant goes ahead with their defence the court will fix a date for a hearing.
While you are waiting for a date the court will require you to fill in an allocation questionnaire that they use to decide whether your case is too complex to be heard or how long it will take for it to come to court. The court then will send a set of instructions to both parties involved in the case. These instructions tell both sides what forms or further information is required before the case is heard.
The defendant however may not reply with a defence in that case you can ask the court to make a judgement based on your paperwork. To do this you have to fill in the Courts and Tribunals Service form N227 that can be obtained from the Justice.gov.uk site form finder section. It is then up to the court to decide whether to settle your claim or to set a date to hear it.
Both parties must attend the hearing where they will be called into the chamber by the clerk of the court so they can plead their case before the judge. Questions will be put to both parties by the judge so that it can be ascertained what the facts are in the case. The judge then will make his decision based on all the evidence presented. The decision will also be sent to both parties in writing.
Once the judge has decided, hopefully in your favour, he will indicate how long the defendant has got to pay your compensation or recompense. It is usually around one month meaning you should not have long to wait to receive your money. All expenses will come under the compensation payment such as travelling costs, court fees plus accommodation if it has been necessary for an overnight stay. The judge will also award witnesses, that were required to attend, their expenses, these must also be paid by the defendant.