What are Small Claims?
Unless your claim is for personal injury or relates to housing disrepair, harassment or eviction, it is likely your claim will be considered a ‘Small Claim’ if the value of the claim is no more than £10,000 (prior to 1st April 2013, the limit was £5,000). There is no such thing as the Small Claims Court. A Small Claim will still be heard in the County Court, it will simply be allocated to the Small Claims Track where special rules apply.
What types of cases are commonly allocated to the Small Claims Track?
Common claims include debt recovery for unpaid invoices and unpaid loans, Landlord and Tenant disputes such as recovery of rent arrears, damage to property and claims to recover deposits from Landlords and Consumer claims for faulty goods or poor workmanship.
Which County Court should I start my Claim in?
There are a number of options available to you. If you are claiming for a specified sum of money (rather than asking the Court to decide the appropriate level of compensation due to you) and your claim is relatively straightforward, certain claims can be issued online via www.moneyclaim.gov.uk Others can be sent to Northampton County Court. This is a bulk processing Court, best suited to simple debt collection. Both these methods attract slightly lower Court fees.
Claims of a more complex nature or where the exact sum being claimed is not specified at the outset ought to be sent to your local County Court. All County Court addresses and contact details can be found at www.justice.gov.uk
Which Court will my claim be heard in?
The Court will decide which County Court the case is to be heard in based upon information presented to it by the parties. It will not necessarily remain in the same Court the claim was started in. There may be special reasons why a particular Court is required e.g. if a video link is required, if a party or witness has a disability, if a site inspection is required etc. However, the rule of thumb is that the claim will be heard in the County Court local to the Defendant but if the Defendant is a limited company, it will be heard in the Court local to the Claimant.
Do I need a Solicitor?
It is not necessary to be represented by a solicitor or barrister. Hearings on the small claims track are designed to be more informal. The usual strict rules of evidence do not apply. The Judge will ask any questions that he needs to be answered in order to arrive at a decision. Legal jargon will be kept to a minimum and the Judge will explain any relevant legal terms or concepts. If you elect to be legally represented, it is extremely unlikely that you would ever recover the cost of such representation, even if you win.
How much do the Court fees cost?
During the claim, Court fees are only ever payable by the Claimant. Unless the Defendant wants to counterclaim, no fees are payable by him. However, he is likely to have to reimburse the Claimant for these fees if he unsuccessfully defends the case. Court fees operate on a sliding scale. The more you are claiming, the higher the Court fees will be.
Fees are payable in three stages:
- When the Claim is started (this is known as the “Issue fee”)
- After the defence is filed when the Claimant submits his Allocation Questionnaire
- When notification of the trial date or trial window is received (this is known as the “Hearing fee”)
Other fees may be payable if you need to make applications along the way. However, the need for such applications is not common.
Full information on the current Court fees can be found at:
What if I do not pay the Court fees when they fall due?
It is likely the Court will strike out your claim or counterclaim and you will not be able to proceed with it unless you start over again.
Will the fees be refunded by the Court if the case settles before trial?
If you notify the Court in writing at least 7 clear days before trial that the matter has settled, you could be refunded your Hearing fee. However, you will not be refunded your Issue fee or Allocation fee. You should bear this in mind in any settlement reached.
What if I cannot afford the Court fees?
You may be exempt from paying Court fees if you are on certain benefits or your income is low. Alternatively, you may only need to pay reduced fees. If you think this applies, you should complete Form EX160A. Further information can be found at http://hmctscourtfinder.justice.gov.uk/courtfinder/forms/ex160a-eng.pdf
Will I recover the costs of bringing the claim?
In cases allocated to the Small Claims Track, the usual rule is that the ‘loser’ has to pay the Court fees. Occasionally the Court will also order the ‘loser’ to pay very limited legal and expert report fees, travelling costs and witness expenses. Unfortunately, the successful party can rarely recover the full cost of having legal representation in cases allocated to the ‘small claims track’.
Who will the Judge be?
Small claims are usually heard by a District Judge or a Deputy District Judge. Their powers are largely the same. The main difference is that District Judges sit on a full-time basis whereas Deputy District Judges sit on a part-time basis (often combing this role with active practice as a solicitor or barrister).
Male District Judges and Deputy District Judges should be addressed as “Sir”. Female District Judges or Deputy District Judges should be referred to as “Ma’m” or “Madam”.
Do I need to attend the hearing?
Whilst it is possible for a claim to be heard in your absence, it is usual that you will be an important witness in support of your case. Accordingly, to give you the best possible chance of success, you should attend. Indeed, all witnesses should attend unless there is a very good reason not to. It is unlikely that the Court will place much weight on written evidence alone. The Court expects to be able to question all parties and witnesses.
Do I need an Expert?
An expert is somebody who is suitably qualified in a particular field to provide an opinion. For example, a Landlord may argue a broken boiler was caused by the actions of a tenant whereas the tenant may claim it stopped working because it was old or had an inherent fault. An expert heating engineer may be required to give his opinion. A consumer may claim the tiling finish is poor whereas the tiler may argue it is the best finish possible with the materials selected and the surface upon which the tiles are to be laid. A third party expert could provide his independent opinion to the Court.
On the Small Claims Track, Expert evidence is strictly limited and can only be used if the Court is asked for permission in advance. To limit costs, the Court will not usually require the Expert to attend Court. The Court will usually be content with a written report only.
When permission is granted to rely upon expert evidence, guidance should be sought as to whether the Expert’s fees will be recoverable from the unsuccessful party. The amount recoverable is usually limited and is currently limited to around £200.
If I Win will I get my Money?
Unfortunately, winning a case does not necessarily mean you will automatically recover the amount specified in the Judgment. The unsuccessful party may refuse to pay or may be unable to pay. If this is the case, you will need to consider what further action is required. The Court will not take any steps to recover this money on your behalf unless you ask it to. This request is known as “Enforcement Proceedings”.
What Enforcement Options are Available?
Enforcement options include:
- The use of bailiffs to seize goods
- An attachment of earnings order so that some of their earnings are used each month to pay off the judgment
- Placing a charge on their property
- A third party debt order to try to freeze their bank account and be paid from it
- Making them bankrupt or placing a company into liquidation
You should consider carefully which method is most likely to be effective given the time and cost of taking these steps.
Can I appeal a Small Claim decision?
The ability to appeal is strictly limited. You can only appeal a small claim decision if the Court made a mistake in law or there was some serious irregularity with the proceedings. Permission needs to be obtained from the Court to appeal and a Court fee is payable. Appeals must be lodged at Court within 21 days of the decision being made.
Where can I get further support?
The Citizen’s Advice Bureau offer support and further guidance can be found on the internet. Rudlings Wakelam solicitors also offer a FIXED FEE SMALL CLAIMS PACKAGE. This package enables you to act as a litigant in person with confidence. Fully qualified solicitors can explain how best to present your claim and prepare documentation to maximise your chances of success.