Small Claims is a term used to describe claims for compensation or other kinds of financial redress (such as refunds or debt recovery) where, usually, the total value you are claiming for is under £10,000.
You might make a Small Claim in situations such as:
- Being injured through someone else’s negligence
- Being supplied with a defective product, which is not of satisfactory quality and/or not fit for purpose and/or not as described.
- Paying for a service which was not performed, or which was not done with reasonable skill and care
- Being owed money for work that you have carried out
When it is not possible to resolve issues like these amicably or through correspondence, you may need to issue court proceedings.
You may often hear the term ‘Small Claims Court’ used, as in: ‘I took them to Small Claims Court’. This is not a separate Court, as Small Claims are dealt with by the County Court, but really refers to the process by which these cases are handled (see below).
Small Claims can undoubtedly involve issues which are very important to you. However, these claims are generally classed as low value and low complexity by the civil justice system, and the process is intended for the use of individuals and businesses that are unlikely to have legal representation.
This means there is no need to instruct a solicitor to bring a Small Claim. But, if you choose to do so, you must be aware that you are unlikely to be able to recover your legal costs from the other side ‚ A regardless of whether you win or lose. As such, you will be responsible for paying these costs yourself in most situations.
The Small Claims Process
The usual process is to send a formal letter (called a Letter of Claim) to the party you hold responsible, notifying them of your intention to begin court proceedings if the matter is not resolved within a certain time.
If that fails, court proceedings may be issued online using either the government’s Money Claim Online service, or by completing an N1 Claim Form and posting it to the County Court Money Claim Centre (Salford Business Centre). You will need to pay a court fee to issue your claim. The amount of the court fee depends on the value of the claim (ranging from £35.00 to £455.00). These fees can be recovered from the party you are claiming from if you are successful in your claim.
If the party you are claiming from defends the claim (i.e. they dispute all or part of your claim against them) then the Court will likely allocate your claim to the ‘Small Claims Track’ – a court procedure which Small Claims follow. Higher value or more complicated cases often follow different court procedures called the ‘Fast Track’ and the ‘Multi Track’.
At this stage, the Court may also set a hearing date for your Small Claim. This hearing is where the Judge will decide your claim (and any counter-claim made by the other party) based upon evidence filed with the Court, such as documents and witness statements. The Judge’s determination will be made on the balance of the probabilities.
A word of warning on Small Claims
If you are considering making a Small Claim, it is important to assess the means of the party that you hold responsible for your financial loss. Will they be able to pay the compensation, debt, or other financial redress that you are seeking? If not, then you are likely to be better off not making a claim at all, because, even if you are successful, recovering the money itself will be very difficult.
For more about difficulties which may arise in actually recovering money following a successful claim, have a look at our entry on Enforcement Proceedings.