This is generally for claims of £10,000 or less (£5,000 before April 2013). The parties are usually expected to be without legal representation as it is a less formal procedure and you are unlikely to recover the costs of legal representation even if you win. However, if the case is complex, the judge has discretion to order that it is not a small claim and so different rules will apply.
Before issuing proceedings, you should try to settle the matter with the other party, or the court may penalise you. You should state your claim in writing to the other party and say that you will take court action if you do not receive a reply within a reasonable amount of time (generally not less than 7 days).
Claims for a fixed amount of money can be started online at www.moneyclaim.gov.uk. Court fees for online claims must be paid by credit or debit card. Other cases can be issued in the local county court. You will need to complete a claim form. Claim forms are available from local courts, and from www.justice.gov.uk.
Where the defendant accepts the claim, the court will not allocate the case to the small claims track, and if paying immediately monies go to the claimant directly. If the Defendant offers to pay a reduced amount or over a period of time and fills out the relevant forms then the Claimant must decide whether to accept the defendant’s offer and return the relevant forms to the court.
If the defendant wants to defend the claim, they must respond within 14 days of receiving the claim form (which is assumed to be two days after posting). The Defendant can complete an Acknowledgement of Service to give themselves more time as then they will have 28 days to complete a Defence and send it to the court.
If no Defence is received in time then the Claimant can apply on-line to enter judgment without needing to pay any further court fee.
If a Defence is received then the court will send a Directions Questionnaire Form N180 to both parties. The allocation questionnaire asks basic questions about each parties’ case, such as when they or their witnesses would not be available for a trial (e.g. a pre-booked holiday).
On page 1, the form asks: “Do you agree to this case being referred to the Small Claims Mediation Service?” You should always tick “Yes” or you will have to explain yourself to the judge later. The parties will usually receive a separate form to complete if they are interested in mediation and again, you should complete and return this.
Once both Directions Questionnaires have been received by the court, the court will make a directions order dealing with preparing the case for trial (such as witness statements and documentation). Often the court will not set a trial date at this stage if the judge decides that the matter can be dealt with in a preliminary hearing or wants to encourage the parties to mediate.
The Small Claims Mediation Service offer a free telephone mediation service, whereby the claim is delayed for a few weeks and a date and time is arranged when both parties are available to discuss the matter by telephone with a mediator. The mediator is trained to encourage both parties to settle the claim so you should not be too concerned if the mediator tells you that you are unlikely to win at trial as this is an inevitable tactic to undermine your confidence in your own case in order to encourage you to settle. If mediation is not successful then the mediator will report back to court and the court will set a trial date.
The court will usually order directions regarding witness statements and documentation if it has not done so already. A typical order would be for both parties to prepare witness statements and send copies of the same together with all relevant documentation that they intend to rely on at court to both the court and the other party 14 days before the trial date.
The trial usually takes 30-35 weeks after the claim form was issued and is usually held in public, but may be in private where both parties are in agreement. These hearings are informal and strict rules of evidence do not apply. They usually last one hour, but will not be more than half a day. The judge will usually give judgment at the end of the hearing stating the reasons for the judgment, but occasionally he may “reserve his judgment” and issue a written judgment several days later.
A successful claimant will be able to recover the Court fees as well as some expenses. However, it is unlikely that a claimant will be able to recover any solicitor or professional fees incurred. A successful Defendant will be able to recover their expenses only.
An appeal can only be made where there has been a mistake in the law or a serious irregularity in proceedings and should be raised shortly after the judgement is received.
We can help you at any stage in this process. We can advise you on the strength of your claim or defence and help you prepare your witness statement or documentation in support of your case. We can help you prepare for the trial or instruct a junior barrister on your behalf (usually for less than £500) to conduct the trial for you.
For more information, contact Justin Sadler on 0118 958 9711 or [email protected]
Unfortunately, their daughter had a very serious illness and they had to cancel several months in advance. The hotel and the catering company both demanded payment in full in accordance with their terms of business.
I advised the client regarding unfair contract terms and also suggested that they check whether the date they had booked for their daughter’s wedding was still available. They checked and it wasn’t, because the hotel had booked in another wedding on the date that had been reserved for our client. They were then taken to court by the caterers, I advised our client on how to represent themselves in court and they won! The judge even suggested that they could bring a claim for the return of the deposit!
When things go wrong, we often assume that it is “all our fault” and particularly in consumer issues, the law often provides more protection than we realise. Large, faceless institutions often try to hide behind their “terms and conditions” and refuse to be flexible, but we can advise you what you rights are and sometimes you will be pleasantly surprised.
- Justin Sadler