How to Take Someone to the Small Claims Court
If you are owed money or are looking for compensation, you may be able to take the person or company responsible to the small claims court.
You may have purchased a faulty product or paid for substandard work by a builder, or perhaps your landlord has refused to carry out repairs or you have suffered a personal injury as a result of someone’s else’s negligence.
To make the claim, you will make a small claims application at the county court, designed to handle relatively straightforward, low-value claims.
This guide sets out the stages involved in the small claim process.
How to take someone to the small claims court: Confirm value of claim
In England and Wales you can issue a money claim using the small claims procedure up to the value of £10,000. However, there are special provisions for housing disrepair and personal injury claims, where the limit is currently £1,000 for any injury or estimated cost of repairs.
If your claim falls outside the small claims financial limit, or it involves complex issues, the judge may reallocate the matter to a different track, known as the fast-track or multi-track. This is likely to involve a much more complicated, time-consuming and costly process for which you should seek expert legal advice.
How to take someone to the small claims court: Time limit
If you are bringing a claim for a faulty product or poor service, or for any other type of claim based on a contractual agreement between you and the defendant, you must issue your claim within 6 years.
Similarly, if you are claiming for repairs that your landlord has failed to undertake, either at all or within a reasonable timescale, you must claim within 6 years of when your landlord first became aware that the repairs were needed.
The limitation period for a personal injury claim is far less. If you have been injured as a result of the defendant’s negligence, you must usually issue a claim within 3 years of the date of your injury.
How to take someone to the small claims court: Court fees
When you issue a small claim you will need to pay what’s known as an issue fee. The court fee is based on the value or estimated value of your claim, plus interest. This can range from £25 to £455.
Depending on how far your case progresses, you may also need to pay what’s known as a final hearing fee. This is again based on the value of your claim, ranging from £25 to £335. However, if your claim is successful, you will usually be able to recover these fees from the defendant.
Further, if you are in receipt of benefits or on a low income, you might get the court fees reduced or not have to pay anything at all.
How to take someone to the small claims court: Claim form
If you are claiming for a specified or fixed amount of money, you can submit your small claim online via the government portal. The benefit of submitting your claim online is that the court fee will be slightly lower, and you won’t have to print and post the documents.
If you don’t know the exact amount you are claiming for, you must submit a paper claim using Form N1. When you’ve submitted your claim, it will be logged by the court and assigned a claim number.
The party issuing a small claim is known as the claimant, while the person against whom the claim is issued is known as the defendant. You will see these terms appear on any paperwork you complete or receive from the court.
How to take someone to the small claims court: Defendant’s response
The defendant will be given the opportunity to reply to your claim. They must file what’s known as an acknowledgement of service within 14 days, with a further 14 days to file any defence if they dispute what you are saying. The defendant may accept your claim in full or in part.
If the defendant fails to respond to your claim, you can ask the court to enter judgment against them by default. If you issued your claim using the paper method, you will need to use Form N225 for a specified sum, or Form N227 for an unspecified amount.
The court may either grant your claim in full, or set a date for a hearing where it decides how much you should recover from the defendant.
How to take someone to the small claims court: Court directions
If the defendant denies owing you money or disagrees with the amount that you have claimed, you may have to attend a court hearing.
Following receipt of a defence, the court will ask you to complete a directions questionnaire asking for more information on the case, for example, the number of witnesses and whether you intend to rely on any expert evidence.
The court will provide directions for a final hearing based on this information. These directions will outline the steps you need to take in advance, including exchange of evidence. Typically, witness and any other evidence will need to be served at least 14 days prior to going to court.
If you fail to file your evidence in time, or at all, the court may refuse permission for you to rely on it or, alternatively, the hearing may be postponed. You may even be ordered to pay the defendant’s wasted costs.
You will also be asked if you would like to use the court’s small claims mediation service to reach an agreement with the defendant. This isn’t mandatory and both parties must agree. However, it can be an effective way to settle your dispute out of court.
How to take someone to the small claims court: Evidence
As the claimant, it is for you to prove to the court that your version of events is more likely than not. This is known as proving your case on a balance of probabilities. This standard is much lower than that required in a criminal case, where the prosecution must prove a defendant’s guilt beyond all reasonable doubt.
In support of your case you may rely on witness or documentary evidence. This could include letters, email correspondence, a written agreement between you and the defendant, receipts, invoices, photographs or even an expert’s report.
With permission, an expert can be used to provide an opinion on issues outside the court’s expertise. By way of example, an engineering expert may be asked to comment on the nature and extent of any housing disrepair, or a medical practitioner could report on the cause and prognosis for any personal injury.
Typically, an expert will not be required to attend a small claims hearing to give evidence in person, but will instead provide a written report. In contrast, the court is unlikely to place any weight on the written evidence of a lay witness. If you intend to rely on any witnesses of fact, they should attend any final hearing so that their evidence can be tested under cross-examination.
How to take someone to the small claims court: Fnal hearing
If your case progresses to a final small claims hearing, typically this will be heard in the judge’s chambers, although occasionally it may be listed for hearing in an open courtroom.
In most cases, only the parties, any witnesses, the judge and any clerical staff will be present for the hearing. Proceedings are relatively informal, evidence is rarely given under oath and the parties will usually present their case sat down.
At the end of the hearing, having heard what both parties have to say and considered all the documentary evidence, the judge will make a decision there and then. This is known as the court’s judgment.
The judge will give you reasons for that judgment, and provide a timescale for the defendant to pay any sum of money awarded to you, typically 28 days. You will receive a copy of the court order in the post.
How to take someone to the small claims court: Costs risks
On the small claims track, you are generally expected to bear your own costs. If your claim is successful, your costs will be limited to recovery of your court fees and witness expenses. This includes loss of earnings, capped at £95 per day, plus reasonable travel or overnight expenses.
You can ask for the same for any witnesses you called, as long as it was necessary for them to attend the hearing. Further, where the court’s permission has been given, you may be able to recover the cost of an expert’s report up to £750.
In the event that your claim is unsuccessful, you may be ordered to pay the defendant’s expenses.
As a caveat to the general rule on small claims costs, if the court considers that a party has behaved unreasonably, the court can exercise its discretion to make a punitive order for that party to pay the other side’s costs.
The court may also refuse to award a claimant their court fees and expenses where, for example, proceedings were issued prematurely or the claimant unreasonably refused mediation.
If your claim is successful but the defendant still fails to satisfy any judgment sum, you can ask the court to take steps to collect this money on your behalf.
There are various ways that the court can do this, including instructing bailiffs, having money deducted from the defendant’s wages or freezing money in the defendant’s bank account.
You can also ask the court to order the defendant to attend court to provide evidence of their income and spending. In this way you can ascertain what the defendant can afford to pay so that you can make an informed decision as to what further action you want the court to take.
If you ask for the defendant to attend court, or for the court to enforce your judgment, in either case you will need to pay a further fee.
The matters contained in this article are intended to be for general information purposes only. This article does not constitute legal advice, nor is it a complete or authoritative statement of the law, and should not be treated as such. Whilst every effort is made to ensure that the information is correct, no warranty, express or implied, is given as to its accuracy and no liability is accepted for any error or omission. Before acting on any of the information contained herein, expert legal advice should be sought.