The ‘small claims court’ is not a court at all but a system of handling claims that are worth £10,000 or less. So, if you’ve had a workman make a mess of your bathroom, or goods that you purchased were faulty, then you’re most likely to find yourself on this track. If you’re making a claim that is worth £10,000 or more then you will need to go through the regular court process, which can be more expensive, more time consuming and may require legal counsel.
Why do people use a small claims court?
You can make a claim in the small claims court for most types of breach of contract claims. The most common types of small claims are:
A claim for compensation for faulty service – for example, the builder, plumber or gardener who does a bad job and causes damage or the dry cleaner who ruins your clothes.
A claim for compensation for faulty goods – for example, the dishwasher that never worked or the electronics you bought that have a serious manufacturer fault.
A claim that involves a dispute between a landlord or tenant – for example claiming compensation from a landlord for repairs that were never carried out or claiming unpaid rent from a tenant.
A claim for money owed under a work contract – for example, unpaid wages or a payment where proper notice wasn’t given.
Why would you use a small claims court?
If you feel that you’ve had a genuinely bad experience and been wronged as a result of an individual or company not doing what they said they would then the small claims court is a good option. It’s worth remembering that whatever you’re claiming will be scrutinised so if there’s anything you’re not sure about – or where you might be embellishing the truth – it’s a good idea to think twice before starting your claim.
How do you use a small claims court?
You can make a claim against an individual or a company in the small claims court. The cheapest way to make a small claim is to do this online – if you opt for the online route then you’ll have the following fees to pay:
£25 – £410 Initial claim fee – to begin your claim
£40 Court allocation fee – this fee gets your case into the courts
£25 – £325 Hearing fee – you’ll pay this if you actually have your day in court
There are time limits on when you can make a claim – for example, a breach of contract claim must be made within six years of the breach. You also have a responsibility to try and resolve the matter without going to court. So, before you start looking at the small claims process it’s important to contact whoever you’re planning to make a claim against and give them time to resolve the situation.
If you don’t have the cash available to make the claim then take care. Only borrow money to do it if you feel you have a genuinely strong case.
What’s the process involved?
Fill in and send a claim form. This is where you set out what the claim is about. You’ll need to send two copies of the claim form, which will be stamped and the court will serve it on the defendant (this will certainly get their “attention”!).
If the defendant agrees that they owe you money then they won’t defend the claim and you should be paid immediately.
If the defendant doesn’t agree then they will have 14 days to prepare a defence.
You’ll receive an allocation to the small claims track and a hearing date. You will be asked to submit documents you’ll be using at the hearing to both the court and the defendant 14 days before the hearing.
During the hearing, both sides will have the chance to make their case and at the end of it the judge will make a judgement in favour of one or the other.
If there was an irregularity in the proceedings or you feel the court made a mistake in law then you will be able to appeal.
What other options are there?
Mediation – if you don’t want to pay the court fees but you’re keen to recover money you think you’re owed, an independent mediator could help both sides to reach a fair conclusion.
An Ombudsman – an Ombudsman is an organisation that has been set up to protect consumers. If you have a consumer complaint then you can contact an Ombudsman and they also have the power to order compensation and compel various actions. Just as with a court claim you’ll need to try and resolve this yourself first.
A watchdog – there are a number of industry watchdogs in the UK. Although they don’t have any powers to order compensation they have some sway in terms of influencing change if there are large numbers of complaints in a particular industry or profession.
A professional body – many industries have their own professional bodies and consumers can make complaints about businesses or individuals that are members of that body. For example, if you want to make a complaint against a letting agent you can contact Association of Residential Letting Agents and if the agent is a member they will investigate and can take action.
Alex Hartley is a keen advocate of improving personal finance skills. She's worked at Solution Loans since 2014 and written hundreds of articles about how people can manage their money better. Her interest in personal finance goes way back to...Read more about Alex Hartley