Small Claims

and the Small Claims Court

Small claims of less than £10,000 (or £1,000 if the claim is for personal injury) will, where they are not expected to require a lot of preparation, legal argument, or extensive witness evidence, be assigned  to the small claims track to be dealt with under the less formal small claims procedure. A claim for a higher amount which exceeds the small claims limit can also be dealt with under the small claims procedure if both the parties and the court agree.

The purpose of the small claims court procedure is for people without legal experience to be able to bring or defend claims themselves, without the expense of employing a lawyer. The idea behind a small claim case is that it will be decided with a minimum of formality and without the need for involvement of lawyers. The case will be dealt with by a district judge in his private rooms, with the parties presenting their cases in person. It is similar to an informal arbitration with a minimum of formality and procedural rules kept to a minimum. For that reason, legal costs are not generally awarded, and all the losing party will have to pay will be the court fee and any expense incurred by the winning party.

When making a claim or entering a defence, you only need to state the facts of your claim  or defence and not go into the law. Therefore to bring a claim, you just need to say that you have suffered a monetary loss and that this was caused by the defendant. You do not need to prove this or provide any evidence. This will come at a later stage. Before issuing your claim however, you must comply with a pre-action protocol, which involves notifying the defendant that you will make a claim against them if they do not pay or compensate you within a given time.

 

when is a credit uneforceableBefore issuing a small claim to court

Before issuing a small or any court claim, all possibilities of settlement should be explored. A formal ‘letter before action’ advising of the intention to issue court proceedings must always be sent to an intended defendant, who should be allowed a reasonable time to comply with the request for payment. Only if this is ignored or settlement seems impossible should proceedings th

The usual rule in civil cases that the losing party pays the other side’s legal costs are modified in small claims. In particular you are most unlikely to be able to recover is the cost of employing a solicitor or barrister to represent you. If a party has chosen to instruct a lawyer to act for them, it is only in the most exceptional cases that a judge will order a losing party to pay these costs

A winning party can will be able to recover

  • the costs of issuing the claim and any court fees which have been paid, such as the allocation questionnaire fee;
  • if the case includes a claim for an injunction or specific performance, an amount for legal advice and assistance to a maximum of £260;
  • any order for costs made before the claim was allocated to the small claims

 

Other expenses incurred by a party or witness may be recovered but these will be at the discretion of the judge

  • travel expenses of witnesses or the party, including the costs of overnight accommodation, if needed. No limit is placed on these costs;
  • an amount for loss of earnings incurred by a witness or party due to attending the hearing, limited to £50 per day per person;
  • if the court has given permission in advance for a party to use expert evidence, a maximum of £200 per expert may be recovered from the losing party to cover the expert’s

If a small claims case proceeds to an appeal, the appeal court may summarily assess the costs of the appeal. The costs of an appeal are not subject to the usual small claims limitations.

The exception to this general rule is when your opponent has behaved unreasonably in their conduct of the litigation. This will be entirely at the discretion of the judge and is not easy to prove.

 

A small claim can be started by either completing and filing Form N1 with the Bulk Issue Claims Centre in Salford or issuing the claim online through the Court Service Money Claim Online There will be a court fee, to pay which is based on the amount claimed. A fee  exemption  or  remission may be available, if you are of limited means or receiving certain benefits.

 

Money Claim Online

Money Claim Online can be a fast efficient way to make a money claim.  It makes the issue and administration of small claims possible online and to encourage its use, a reduction is made to the court issue fee charged. A customer help desk is available based in Northampton, which can be contacted either by phone or e-mail.

MCOL enables a claimant to not only issue a claim online but also check the status of the claim, and request entry of judgement and enforcement by warrant of execution.   Payment of the court fee is made using a credit or debit card. Defendants may also use MCOL to respond and defend a claim. It is not available to those entitled to a reduction in or exemption from paying court fees and those in receipt of legal aid. They must issue their claim through the County Court Money Claims Centre in Salford.

 

Claims are issued through the bulk processing centre in Northampton, which sends out the documentation to the defendants in the name of Northampton County Court. If defended, the case will then be transferred usually to the defendant’s home court. Online issue of a claim is fairly straightforward. You must however have an address in England or Wales, as must the defendant. The service is only available however to claim a specified amount of money (under £10,000) against a maximum of two defendants. You cannot therefore claim for such as injuries sustained in an accident or damages for faulty goods.

 

Once served, a defendant has 14 days to respond. If the particulars of claim has not been filed and is ‘to follow’, this time will not start to run until they are received. The response pack sent by the court with the claim form to the defendant must be completed to show whether the claim is admitted in all or part, or whether it is to be defended, and whether the defendant wishes to make a counterclaim against the claimant. If so, a further court fee may well be payable. If the acknowledgement of service is returned to the court indicating an intention to defend, the defendant will have 28 days from the  date of service to file their defence.

If a defence is filed, the court will send you a copy together with an allocation questionnaire, which must be returned to the court and a copy to your opponent within 14 days.

The court will send you and the other party a notice of allocation, which sets out which track the claim has been allocated to and what the court expects you to do next. These steps you are both required to take by the court are known as ‘directions’ and may include

  • instructions to send further supporting document to the court and to the other parties involved in the claim, and when you need to do this by;
  • permission to use an expert at the hearing;
  • information about mediation, if either you or the other party has asked for mediation or the judge thinks the case is suitable for mediation;
  • information about the date and place of the hearing, and how long the judge thinks it will takeIf a defendant does not file a defence within the time limit – which for most claims is 14  days after the date of service of the statement of claim –, you will be entitled to ask the court to enter judgement in your favour. A judgement in default is as good as any other judgement. It can however be set aside on application by a defendant. There are mandatory and discretionary grounds on which the court has the power to set aside a default judgement.

 

Under Rule 13.2 of the Civil Procedure Rules 1998, the court must set aside a default judgement that was wrongly entered before the defendant’s deadline for filing an acknowledgement of service or a defence expired. The court is also obliged to set aside a default judgement, entered after the claim had been paid in full.

 

Under Rule 13.3 (1), the court can use its discretion to set aside or vary a default judgement if the applicant can show that:

 

  • they have a real prospect of successfully defending the claim; or
  • it appears to the court that there is some other good reason why the judgement should be set aside or varied and the defendant should be allowed to defend the

The hearing for your claim

This court will manage the running of the case and serve all papers.  If it is intended to call expert evidence, the permission of the court must first be obtained. The hearing will be informal and conducted by a district judge in his private rooms. Evidence will not usually be required to be given on oath, and everybody remains seated around a table. The judge will usually make an award immediately after the hearing and explain the reasons. Payment to the winning party will usually be ordered to be made within 14 days.

 

We have an e-book available for download, Small Claims in the County Court, which explains all you are likely to need to know to deal with a small claim.

 

Taking a claim to court should always be the last resort, and taken only when all other attempts at resolving the dispute have failed and not be brought if there is any other possible alternative. There are usually better ways of resolving a dispute, which will be quicker and easier than the court, and likely to bring a better result.

 

Small claims cases may be easier, cheaper and quicker to deal with than other sorts of civil cases. But there can never be a guarantee that you will win. As any lawyer will tell you,  there can never be any certainty with litigation. Exhaust every other possibility before going to court. Write to the other side, try to talk to them, see if they will agree to try mediation – do whatever can be done to resolve the problem, and only then take it to court.

 

If you are going to use the court you must be organised. Cases are won through careful preparation and good presentation. Although many of the court rules are relaxed for small claims, there are still court rules which must be complied with, and orders and time limits to obey. If you go about your claim or defence in a half-cocked fashion, you are not likely to succeed. These are still court proceedings just as much as a multi-million pound action in  the High Court. If you are going to use the court you must be prepared to play by their rules.

 

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