Small Claims Court
The Small Claims Court is primarily used within civil claims. Within the civil court system there are three main tracks for claims in the county court. These are the small claims, fast track and multi track. For cases assigned to multi track or fast track routes, it is important that you consult a professional legal advisor.
When a case is assigned to one of these tracks it is classed as being a civil claim and they are very different from family, criminal or insolvency claims. When a civil claim is dealt with it is processed through the civil court, county court or high court in the most serious or complex of cases.
Low Value Civil Cases
The small claims court will usually deal with civil cases of low value. Where cases become overly complex or of high value they are dealt with by a different court. The majority of small claims cases are those which involve claiming for money as a result of services not delivered or faulty services.
Examples of cases dealt with through the small claims track include compensation for faulty products such as a television or washing machine, compensation for faulty services such as those provided by builders or tradespeople and even disputes between a landlord and a tenant. There are many different reasons for using the small claims court.
When you submit a claim to the court, usually the claimant cannot choose which track the case will be assigned to. It will be up to the district judge as part of case management. In order to reach their decision they will decide the amount that you are claiming and the nature of the claim as well as its complexity.
At the start of any formal legal proceedings you may be asked to complete a directions questionnaire which will outline your preference.
When reviewing your case and deciding whether it is appropriate to be dealt with in the small claims track, the court will usually take into consideration two factors:
- The first is the financial value of the case. If the claim is valued up to £10,000 it will be assigned to the small claims track. Where the claim relates to a personal injury it will only be assigned to the small claims court if the value of the claim for the personal injury is less than £1,000. Where the claimant is pursuing a claim as a tenant and the case involves their landlord who will not carry out repairs or other remedial works to the property and the claim is less than £1,000, the case will also be assigned to the small claims track. Even where a claim is more than £10,000 a claim can still be allocated to the small claims track.
- The second factor that the court will take into consideration is the complexity of the case. If the case is complicated but of a low value, the judge may decide that it needs to be assigned to an alternative track because it requires a full hearing. Information about this can be included in the directions questionnaire.
Where disputes cannot be settled, claimants will resort to the small claims court, but formal legal proceedings should always be a last resort. Claimants should endeavour to solve the dispute informally without resorting to court. This could include an Ombudsman scheme, mediation or arbitration. These avenues are referred to as alternative dispute resolution.
Money Claim Online
The Money Claim Online website was established as a convenient and fast method of making your claim over the internet. All the required fees are paid and you can track your claim just by logging in to the website. The court that you use to process the claim will very much depend on the amount of your claim. The Money Claim Online system allows you to make a claim up to the value of £100,000. Any claim in excess of £15,000 can be heard at the high court and small claims up to the value of £5,000 are heard in the small claims court. There is no upper limit for claims which are dealt with in the County Court.
Costs associated with Claims
When you instigate formal legal proceedings and make a court claim you will have to pay court fees. The amount of these charges will depend on the amount which you are claiming. If you are in receipt of state benefits you will not usually have to pay any court fees. Furthermore, if you can demonstrate that the payment of court fees will place you in financial hardship you may be able to receive a reduction in the fees that you have to pay for your claim.
If your case requires witnesses you may also have to meet their costs in addition to any loss of earnings caused as a result of their attendance at court as well as their travel expenses. If you are successful in court and you win the case the defendant will have to pay these costs. Where expert witnesses are required, you will also have to meet these costs too.
If you win your claim it can be difficult to recover any money if the individual has declared themselves bankrupt. If this is the case, it is strongly advised that you contact the Insolvency Service who can offer guidance and advise you whether the individual that you are claiming against is solvent.
If you are making a claim against someone who is facing multiple claims, again it may be difficult to recover any money from them and you can check whether the individual or business you are claiming against already has any outstanding judgements or claims against them by contacting the Registry Trust. There is a fee payable to search their database but it is worth it to avoid any unnecessary court costs.
Even if you win the case, the court will not automatically take any steps to recover the damages from the defendant. Some claimants decide to escalate their claim to the High Court and obtain a Writ which will be collected by High Court Enforcement Officers but this will incur additional fees.
When do you need a solicitor?
Depending on the nature of your claim, you may not need to seek advice from a solicitor. As a general rule any claim under £5,000 in value can usually be dealt with by the claimant using the Money Claim Online. Where claims are in excess of £5,000 and the claimant is seeking damages it is strongly advised that you consult a solicitor.
Personal injury claims for example can be complex so it is advised that you seek legal advice so they can advise on the merits of your claim. For some civil claims there are no win no fee solicitors who can take the case on provided that it stands a reasonable chance of success.
About the author:
This article was written by a member of the Expert Answers legal advice team and posted by Lloyd Barrett. Expert Answers provides online legal advice on all aspects of UK Law to users in the United Kingdom.
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