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A Guide to Small Claims Court

By: Louise Smith, barrister - Updated: 25 Aug 2020 | comments*Discuss
 
Claims Small Claim Money Court Dispute

If you are owed money, and the value of your claim is £10,000 or less, you may be able take a case to the small claims court. However, financial value is not the only factor that determines whether a case will be handled as a small claim.

The small claims court is not a separate court. It is also known as the small claims track and is one of three different ways - or tracks - in which civil cases may be handled, according to their financial value and legal complexity. If your case turns out to be more complicated than you thought, it could end up being dealt with on one of the other tracks. If this happens there is a risk of incurring substantial legal costs.

As well as money claims, some other types of cases may also be dealt with in the small claims court. These include:

  • Personal injury claims with an overall value of up to £10,000 and where the claim for damages for personal injuries is no more than £1000;
  • Claims by residential tenants against their landlords for disrepair where the estimated costs of the repairs and / or damages are limited to £1000.

Small claims cases should be easier, cheaper and quicker to deal with than other sorts of civil cases. However, there is no guarantee that you will win. It is vital to ensure that all other methods of resolving a dispute have been exhausted 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. Going to court should always be the last resort.

(This article applies to small claims cases in England and Wales - different rules apply in Scotland.)

How to Start a Small Claim Court Case

Small claims cases are started by filling in a Claim Form. The Claim Form sets out the facts of the case and states how much is owed, together with any costs or interest being claimed. A Claim Form (Form N1) can be downloaded from Her Majesty's Courts and Tribunal Service website hmctsformfinder.justice.gov.uk or it may be possible to pick up a copy from your local County Court. The accompanying guidance notes should be followed carefully.

There are two ways of starting a claim for money:

  • Some claims can now be started using the Money Claims Online service www.moneyclaim.gov.uk; or,
  • Completed Claim Forms are sent to the County Court Money Claims Centre.

In either event a fee will have to be paid, unless an exemption applies. The case will then be "issued" and given a formal case number. Once the claim has been issued, you will be sent a notice confirming this and telling you how long the defendant has to reply.

If the defendant defends the Claim the court will send out directions questionnaires which must be completed and returned. These questionnaires give the court an indication of the complexity of the case, how long the hearing is likely to last and whether the court needs to give the parties any special instructions (or directions). The answers given may also help the court establish whether the case is suitable to be heard in the small claims court.

If a case is complicated or needs further clarification a judge might list it for a preliminary or directions hearing. This can be a chance to work out precisely what the dispute is or what needs to be done to prepare for the trial. The judge may also encourage the parties to try mediation and, if they agree, refer the case to the Small Claims Mediation Service.

The court could decide that a case does not need a hearing at all and that it can be decided by a judge based solely on written documents. If this happens a notice will be sent out and the case will only be decided without a hearing if all the parties agree. (If a party fails to reply it could be treated as agreement.)

How Much Will it Cost me to Take Someone to The Small Claims Court?

Although the small claims court is a relatively cheap way for people to bring their own cases there are fees which have to be paid at various stages:
  • Starting the claim - this varies depending on the value of the claim and how it is started.
  • Allocation of the case - this is paid when the court formally allocates a defended claim to one of the three tracks. If a small claims case has a value of £1500 or more the fee will be £40.
  • The final hearing - the claimant will have to pay a further fee which, again, varies according to the value of the Claim.

A fee exemption may apply for those on benefits or low incomes. Full guidance on the fees applicable to a particular claim can be found in form EX50, which can be downloaded from hmctsformfinder.justice.gov.uk

If you win your case you may ask the judge to order the defendant to reimburse you for all of these fees. Other costs which might be recovered by the winning party in a straightforward money claim include:

  • The expenses incurred or loss of earnings of any witnesses who attend the final hearing, limited to £90 per day.
  • The costs of any expert witnesses for which the court gave permission, limited to £750.

Costs on the small claims track are usually limited to these types of expenses - unless the judge decides that the losing party has behaved unreasonably. If so, the judge could order the losing party to pay all or some of the actual costs of bringing or defending the case.

What to Expect

Small claims cases are dealt with far more informally than other types of cases and the strict rules of evidence do not apply. The judge is likely to take a pragmatic approach - adopting the procedure to suit the parties and facts in each case.

The case will usually be heard by a District Judge who is addressed as either Sir or Madam. Hearings are often held in the judge's room - or chambers - rather than a large courtroom. The parties will mostly remain seated during the hearing - although witnesses may have to stand whilst taking the oath or giving oral evidence.

Parties may be represented by either a lawyer or a lay representative - such as a friend or colleague. A party must attend the hearing if they are represented by a lay person. However, there is no obligation on a party to be represented and the system is designed to be accessible to people who represent themselves.

What You Will Need to Prove

The general rule is that the person who brings a case must prove it. The judge will have to be satisfied that the claimant has proved their case "on the balance of probabilities". This means that, for the claimant to win, the judge will have to be satisfied that their version of events is more likely than not to be correct.

You can help the judge understand your case by making sure you present it in a clear and chronological manner. No matter how well you think you know your case, it is a good idea to prepare notes of what you want to say in the hearing and to put your documents into the right order.

The judge will consider all of the evidence before deciding the case. There are different types of evidence, including:

  • Documents - such as contracts, invoices, letters, photographs, etc.
  • Factual evidence from witnesses with personal knowledge of the case. (This could take the form of witness statements and / or oral evidence given at the hearing.)
  • Physical objects - for example, an allegedly defective toaster.
  • The opinion of an expert with relevant specialist knowledge. However, in small claims cases an expert's opinion can only be relied upon if the court has given permission.

Parties are entitled to see the other side's evidence in advance of the trial and the judge will also want a copy of the evidence in advance of the hearing. It is rarely sensible to keep a piece of evidence secret, in the hope of ambushing your opponent with it at the trial. It could result in the case being adjourned - and additional costs having to be paid.

What Happens if a Party Does Not Attend The Hearing?

A party who does not wish to attend a small claims trial should write to the court, at least 7 days before the final hearing, asking the judge to decide the case based on their documents.

A party, who fails to attend a hearing without giving the notice described above, can apply to set aside the decision made in their absence. The application must be made within 14 days of the decision being served on them. The party should show that:

  • they had a good reason for not attending the hearing; and;
  • they have a "reasonable prospect of success" in the claim.
  • Parties cannot apply in this way to set aside a decision made after all parties agreed to the case being decided without a hearing.

In some cases a party's failure to attend the final hearing could result in the judge ordering them to pay additional costs to the other side.

How Long The Process Takes

Small claims cases should be resolved within six months but can take much longer.

Cases may be delayed for a number of reasons including: the failure of parties to comply with directions; overburdened courts; and, unexpected absences. Conversely, if no defence is filed - or if the claim is admitted - it may be possible to get judgment against the defendant within a matter of weeks.

If I Win How Will I Get My Money

Winning a case is not the same as getting your money back. If your opponent fails to pay it may be necessary to take further steps to "enforce the judgment". There are several ways of enforcing a County Court Judgment. A fee will usually have to be paid but can be claimed back from the defendant together with the rest of the money owed. The relevant forms can be downloaded here hmctsformfinder.justice.gov.uk

The best method of enforcement depends on the individual circumstances of the defendant. For example:

  • Attachment of Earnings Order (Form N337) - if the defendant is employed this would require his employer to deduct a regular sum from the defendant's salary to be paid directly towards the judgment debt.
  • Charging Order (Form N379) - this would place a charge for the value of the judgment on property owned by the defendant. If the property is sold the defendant would have to pay the debt back. You could apply for an Order for Sale forcing the defendant to sell but there is no guarantee the court would grant such an order.
  • Third Party Debt Order (Form N349) - if the defendant has money in a bank account, or is owed money by someone else, this type of order would ensure that the money is paid directly to you to satisfy the judgment.
  • Warrant of Execution (Form N323) - bailiffs could seize goods from the defendant to the value of the judgment debt.

If you are not sure of the defendant's circumstances you could apply for them to attend court to give information using either Form N316 if the defendant is an individual or N316A if it is a company.

A note of caution - there is no point throwing good money after bad. If the defendant simply cannot afford to pay, it may be pointless spending further money on enforcement.

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I have started the process to take a decorator to court for bad workmanship to which i then had to pay someone else to fix. He has acknowledged our intentions and requested the 12 day extension which lapses today. We have a strong case however he is a one man band who i believe is self employed by advertises having business insurance, if we take him to court i know he has nothing in his name and will claim that he cannot pay, is it worth taking him to court in the hope that his insurance will pay out or are we throwing bad money after bad money? Thanks, Sam
Sam - 27-Jul-20 @ 4:25 PM
Typical cases ...good to know what happened.
vince - 25-Jul-20 @ 9:25 AM
can someone advise how I could bring my ex flatmate to court for leaving during tenancy agreement and not paying rent if she did not give me her forwarding address?
Molly1100 - 6-Jul-20 @ 1:03 PM
I am thinking of taking a travel agent to court, they are refusing to refund money for flights cancelled by airlines. Both airlines are only offering vouchers, which now are no good to me. The some is £1500.00. They have also charged me a admin fee. I understand this goes against EU and UK laws. If I lose for any reason, what is the most I would have to pay them.?
Rahul - 3-Jul-20 @ 12:47 AM
If I see the defendants defence and decides he has a strong defence can I pull out of the small court case , and if so at what cost to me please.
Mr ROYSTON K GOLDING - 25-Apr-20 @ 9:39 AM
Hi there, A travel agent is threatening to take my mother and I to court for £450 to recoup cancellation costs for flight tickets that my mother never instructed them to book in the first place. They then tried intimidating my mother into payment by withholding passports and coerced into accepting an amedment. However how is she liable for any costs when she did not instruct them to make a booking in the first place. Grateful for any advise. Thank you.
Tbell90 - 10-Apr-20 @ 2:10 PM
We've just had a phone call from an accountant saying he's representing one of our old customers relating to some physical damage to her property some five years ago and wanting £2'000 as compensation for rectification work carried out five years ago. Is there a time limit on being able to make a claim regardless of the detail?
guffs - 18-Mar-20 @ 2:31 PM
We bought a property and have had nothing but issues with electrics, wood burning stove, water and planning permission which was not disclosed. We feel the seller has been dishonest and also have a case of misrepresentation. Rather than use a solicitor and pay even more money than we have had to. Can I go through the small claims court with this matter ? Wendy
Wendy - 12-Mar-20 @ 3:41 PM
Just been to small claims, awarded £500 for shoddy bathroom work. The court fees were £150 we paid money for quotes total £50 plus two people were off work £100 witnesses, so that means we were awarded £200 basically which is nowhere near enough to rectify the problems. Can we do anything about this?
Owens1673 - 29-Aug-19 @ 12:17 PM
Hi there I live in an apartment block of 6 and my neighbour wanted to install an entry system to the main door into the stairwell. I said this was a good idea but send me details and a quote etc. I was then working over in Indonesia for 3 months and I’ve came back home to a bill of £500. My neighbour is saying that’s how much I’m due him as he had it installed for £3000 then it’s been split between the 6 apartments. I told him I never agreed to that price there were far cheaper options and I can’t afford that sort of money. He is now taking me to the small claims court ?! Do I just try and pay him monthly or do I have a strong case to defend?
Jess - 29-Jul-19 @ 5:01 PM
hi could someone pls help i don’t know what else to do my mum and dad are in their 70 and being taken to a small claims court by a 21 yr old neighbour as they are claiming my dad was spraying his car with paint and the over spray hit the car next to him. my dad has no idea what this man is talking about he has never used spray paint only a light water spray for his wheels the claimant has knocked twice and my parents house demanding money that they don’t have it has frightened them they have also received a call from their insurance company saying the claimants solicitor had called them claiming my dad had been in road traffic accident but the solicitor and the claimant did not give any details on this as they couldn’t because it was not true my parents will not call the police about him knocking and demanding money as they are frightened of any further aggression from this man now they are being made to attend a small claims court in july although the man has pictures of his car and bills of work that has been done on his car their doesn’t appear to show any over spray he has no proof or images of my dad working next to his car they are not sure what to expect i liveso far away from them i can’t get their to help we feel he is just a chancer and has prob done this before to vulnreble people but it doesn’t stop them being worried my dad suffers with high blood pressure anxiety depression he is a great dad and loving grandfather is always helping his neighbours out with anything even taking them to hospital appointments etc this is not fair some pls help any advice will be grateful
laura - 27-Jun-19 @ 2:18 PM
I am making a claim through the stalls claim track for rent arrears.Since putting the claim in my ex tenants have moved.When I sent my documents to court I put the ex tenants' new address on the form N1. I have now been notified by the court that although their original notification to the defendants had been returned as "not known at this address" the document is never less served unless the address given on it is not the relevant address for purposes of rule 6.5 of the civil procedure rules. What does this mean? Do I have to do anything other than send my bundle to them at their new address?
Dee - 18-May-19 @ 9:11 PM
I wish to take a trader to the small claims court. However I only have his old address as he is an individual trader. I don’t have his new address and he is not registered company. I have sent letters to his old address notifying him that I plan to claim. One letter was never signed for and the other was returned to me by the post office saying the address didn’t exist. I wondered if I could still file a claim with no correct address or how I could find the new address. I have read about tracing agencies. I don’t want to lose more money making a claim that won’t go anywhere. Thanks
Paul - 1-May-19 @ 9:26 PM
Hi, we have recently booked a holiday through on online agent & have someone who is now not willing to pay the remaining balance. We have contacted the company who have advised that even if the person wants to cancel, the full amount is still liable to be paid. I passed this message onto the person wishing to cancel to no avail. We have tried to sell the place but the name change cost is almost as much as the remaining balance.Is this something that I would be able to take them to the small claims court for to pay the remaining balance of the holiday which they have committed to?
msh1990 - 20-Mar-19 @ 10:39 AM
Hello, I have a court hearing monday I cannot attend and I have just read in the small print i had to let the court know 14 days prior and I had to send in my evidence 7 days before. I really have messed up here. I have sent my evidence today to be received tomorrow. It's a case I am defending and I have a good chance of defending the case. Any advice anyone and also can I appeal if I can't attend. Thankyou
Shawty - 24-Jan-19 @ 3:52 PM
@Smithy1986 - this sounds a bit suspicious to me. Late completions are thought to be beyond anyone's control, particularly if there is a long chain. Usually there is a clause via the conveyancers/estate agents that should deal with this. It sounds a bit crazy how it has got this far, as court proceedings should be considered as a last resort. Legal costs are not generally recoverable ‘win or lose’ within the small claims court, so whatever you do spend on legal representation is considered dead money. I'd get some legal advice through free organisations such as the Citizens Advice Bureau, as this sound as though it needs a fresh pair of eyes, something is definitely amiss.
Rachel11 - 16-Jul-18 @ 2:12 PM
We completed on our purchase in August 2017 for our new home. Unfortunately the buyer of our property had issues with their solicitors so we did not complete on the day specified and instead completed the following day. Our solicitor received a claim from the people we bought our home from for additional removal fees (£900). He wrote back to their solicitors to say we were not responsible and that everything was done to complete the next day. The person liable was the bottom of the chain. We were not aware that this conversation was happening between the solicitors and not consulted but have now been taken to the small claims court for the money. It’s really stressful as our solicitor is now quoting us £1000-£3000 to represent us! Any advice anyone can give would be grateful. Can we pay it and then begin a claim against our buyer? Do we have a leg stand on to dispute this? Will we be issued a CCJ if we dispute it and lose?
Smithy1986 - 14-Jul-18 @ 5:44 PM
Hi my van was taken to a garage by recovery and the garage told me the bill would be about £400 however the next day he rang me up to tell me that it was going to cost £800 plus vat as the clutch needed replacing i told him i didnt have that amount and to not go ahead with repair i then tried to make other arrangements in getting the car moved from the premises and getting quotes from other mechanics. A mechanic told me to ask the garage what the bill was owing as garage had taken the faulty clutch off so i rang harage and they told me £350 was the full labour costs for 8 hours work in taking it off so then about a week later the garage rang me and said i needed to remove car from garage otherwise i would be charged storage fee this was left as a voicemail and was quite threatening in tone. I then made arrangement with a recovery truck to collect car from the premises and then called the garage to let them know they then said i dont need a recovery truck as i can drive it out its been fully repaired i just need to pay £960 to get it. I then at garage told him i was paying under protest and he refused to allow the paperwork to say this so the police was called and they were witness to me protesting about the payment as i never asked for the repair to be carried out. Can someone tell me do i have a good case as i am unemployed and dont have a lot of money had to borrow money to pay for repair as i couldnt aford it so had to sell van for £1000 to pay back money borrowed
Antony - 7-Jun-18 @ 7:03 AM
Alex - Your Question:
Hi.I am about to take a car dealer to the small claim court, but would like to hear some advice before hand. I bought a used car on 04/12/2017 for £1250 and less then week later a car broke down. So I got in touch with the dealer and he agree to take it to the garage to repair. So after a lot of phone calls and some argueing been told car was done and ready to pick it up 10/01/2018 went there but car was in horrible engine nocking noise so I told them than I cant have this car as it clearly something wron with it and gave him second chance for repair. So on 16/01/2018 been told a car is ready again. Went pick it up ir sounded not perfect but much better, got my car back and the next day service light came up telling about check injection and car started knocking noise again. Phone again to dealer and garage to let them know about that, they told me bring a car to the scanner to have a look. I did this on 22/01/2018 and they told me they need to put another injectors into it. So I am so tyred of this nonsence and a garage is a hour away from where I live. Garage told me they been trying only second hand parts for repair which didnt go well. Please advice me in this if I can win a court because I cant go back and for to the garage again and again to waste my time and my holidays for taking a time off. He is already got 2 attemts to rapair and failed to do so.Regards Aleksandr

Our Response:
The Money Advice Service link here, should tell you all you need to know regarding your legal rights.
CourtroomAdvice - 26-Jan-18 @ 2:00 PM
Hi. I am about to take a car dealer to the small claim court, but would like to hear some advice before hand. I bought a used car on 04/12/2017 for £1250 and less then week later a car broke down. So I got in touch with the dealer and he agree to take it to the garage to repair. So after a lot of phone calls and some argueing been told car was done and ready to pick it up 10/01/2018 went there but car was in horrible engine nocking noise so I told them than I cant have this car as it clearly something wron with it and gave him second chance for repair. So on 16/01/2018 been told a car is ready again. Went pick it up ir sounded not perfect but much better, got my car back and the next day service light came up telling about check injection and car started knocking noise again. Phone again to dealer and garage to let them know about that, they told me bring a car to the scanner to have a look. I did this on 22/01/2018 and they told me they need to put another injectors into it. So I am so tyred of this nonsence and a garage is a hour away from where I live. Garage told me they been trying only second hand parts for repair which didnt go well. Please advice me in this if I can win a court because I cant go back and for to the garage again and again to waste my time and my holidays for taking a time off. He is already got 2 attemts to rapair and failed to do so. Regards Aleksandr
Alex - 23-Jan-18 @ 12:42 PM
I'm confident of winning, but want English friend to attend hearing in my place because the case has taken a long to come to court and I have now returned to my own country- very busy because of work and family problems. Can my friend represent me? I am only nervous that there is so much paper work, he would be there to help
Chris - 23-Jan-18 @ 9:39 AM
My mum wants to claim against a holiday company - as her room on a family holiday was located in another block, a 10 mi ute walk from the rest of the family group - the holiday was 7 nights - she complained in resort and another part of the family was mobed to her block after 3 nights - she wants to claim for stress caused to her ' she was 72 at the time - she has cone up with the value of £300 - does this sound like a suitable claim for the scc?
Lottie - 18-Jan-18 @ 4:38 PM
Hi, I'm taking a decorator to the small claims court but I put her name instead of her name and trading as. She is an individual trader and the company isn't limited. At what point (if any) should I or do I have to apply to change her name? It would be £100 which would be more expensive than just doing another claim. Thanks!
AC - 13-Jan-18 @ 11:38 PM
@stacey - do you have an alternative place where the papers can be served i.e at the person's palce of work?
PaVB - 21-Dec-17 @ 2:13 PM
If you issue a claim against someone and it is returned by post office saying "not known at this address" but I know they are still living there, how do i proceed?
stacey - 21-Dec-17 @ 9:01 AM
millie - Your Question:
I am taking someone to court for poor workmanship. what happens if he doesn't turn up to court ? will I incur more fees to the court again to get him to court? if I win and he doesn't pay me what would be my next step and will this cost me more again OR WILL the courts just pursue this for me and put a ccj against him?

Our Response:
The court can proceed with the hearing in the other person's absence. If for any reason the court cannot proceed then it can penalise that personby ordering them to pay the other party's costs of the hearing. It all depends on the reasons for non attandence. It is difficult to anticipate what the court may decide.
CourtroomAdvice - 30-Nov-17 @ 9:54 AM
I am taking someone to court for poor workmanship.what happens if he doesn't turn up to court ? will I incur more fees to the court again to get him to court? if I win and he doesn't pay me what would be my next step and will this cost me more again OR WILL the courts just pursue this for me and put a ccj against him?
millie - 29-Nov-17 @ 2:15 PM
@Popcorn - it's unlikely you're going to get your money now :(
AID - 12-Oct-17 @ 3:01 PM
After 3 years of waiting and the defendant after moving and failing to turn up at court for questioning actual turned up after court issued a warrent to attend or go to prison my question is now hes been questioned (n316) what happens now As he still owes me over £2000
Popcorn - 12-Oct-17 @ 8:09 AM
I was wondering if I could take my ex to small claims court, he left me when I was 5 months pregnant. Left me to provide everything for the baby up to date. He only pays £22 per week. Was wondering if I can clim costs back 50% of what I have paid. Plus he's dragged me through court this year with even more costs incurred. Can I claim these all back?
Julie1980 - 28-Nov-16 @ 10:50 PM
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