How the Small Claims Court Works

This is the last resort. If you’ve exhausted all other channels of complaint and you’re not able to reach an amicable solution, you can take your case to the county court, or Small Claims Court as it tends to be known.

Don’t apply to the county court before you’ve given the company concerned the chance to put things right, as you could be penalised by the court. This may mean paying the other party’s expenses and costs in attending court if you’ve asked for the case to be held prematurely.

how the small claims court works How the Small Claims Court Works

How the Small Claims Court works

  • It’s set up to be quick, cheap and unintimidating; a user-friendly style of court.
  • You can represent yourself so there’s no need for expensive solicitors.
  • It’s meant for claims of $5,000 or less, although with per¬sonal injury claims the limit is lower – at $1,000.

Before taking your case to the Small Claims Court it’s worth getting legal advice. A cost-effective way to do this is by getting a list of local solicitors who offer a fixed-fee advice service from your local Citizens Advice. This will typically cost around $20 for twenty to thirty minutes’ advice. You won’t be short-changed on advice; this isn’t a watered down version of what they’d tell the full-fee paying customers, but a great way to get some legal advice if it’s a one-off issue you need to ask about.

Before you issue a claim
It is worth a quick game of bluff before you officially lodge your complaint, as this can often bring results and avoid the court process.

Contact your local county court for the paperwork (this won’t cost you a penny, as it’s lodging the claim that incurs a fee), fill them in and date them a week in advance. Then send a copy to the person you’re in dispute with, along with a covering letter, telling them that on this date you’ll be lodging the complaint with your local county court.

It’s a ruse I’ve suggested to people on consumer programmes and in several cases it’s worked, as the company concerned then realise (if they know they’re in the wrong) that they’re likely to come off worst if the case goes to court. So they usually pay up.

Before you make a claim consider whether the person you’re suing has the means to pay you if you’re successful. If they’re on the verge of bankruptcy, even if you win the case you may have to wait some considerable time (or forever) for your money.

A savvy consumer’s story
While the idea of going to ‘court’ can be daunting, taking a case to the Small Claims Court can mean the difference between get¬ting your money back or losing out, as this case from a successful claimant shows.

I’d asked a building company to repoint the side of my house. I paid a deposit but one day into the job they’d made a mess of it and walked off.
They’d got my deposit but wouldn’t come back to finish the job, and were quite nasty on the phone, threatening to sue me for the remainder of the money they said I owed them.

I spoke to my local Citizens Advice who suggested getting an independent surveyor to look at the work. He gave me a report saying it wasn’t done properly, so I filled in the paperwork to take my case to the Small Claims Court. It was very straightfor¬ward and a friend helped me. Just a week before the case was due in court, the building company settled ‘out of court’, giving me back my deposit and court fees.’

Making a claim

  • Get a claim form from your local county court or download one at www.hmcourts-service.gov.uk.
  • As the claimant, you can apply to have the case heard in your local county court, although it may be held in the defendant’s local county court, so be aware of where they’re based.
  • Complete two copies of the form and return both to the court along with the fee. Make sure you keep a copy for your own records too.

How much does it cost?
Fees are based on a sliding scale; for claims up to $3,000 there’s an $85 fee which you must send to your local county court with your completed forms. For claims over $3,000 and up to the $5,000 limit, it’s $108. In some cases if you’re claiming benefits you may not have to pay.


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