A Guide to the Small Claims Track
11 November 2016 by Lauren Hancock
If you are considering making a civil claim for a specific amount there are a few important points to note before you start. Your case will usually be considered a “small claim” if the amount you are looking to recover is less than £10,000 (or £1,000 for personal injury claims). If this is the case, even if you are successful you will usually have to pay your own legal costs. As a result, many choose to deal with these types of claim without legal representation.
We appreciate that this is a daunting prospect and whilst government guidance does exist, often legal jargon, endless forms and confusing procedural rules make it impossible to know where to begin. Following our simple step guide will help you through the process and keep you on the right track.
Do your research. In order to bring a claim you must have a legal basis for doing so; simply feeling that you have been wronged will not stand up in Court.
Consider whether the party you are claiming from (the Defendant) has the means to pay you. The Court will not be able to assist you to recover your money if they do not.
If the Defendant is bankrupt, it is unlikely you will recover the money owed to you. You can find out if someone is bankrupt by searching the government’s insolvency register or by contacting the Insolvency Service on 020 7637 1110.
Legal proceedings should always be a last resort so attempt to settle the dispute by other means first. You could try negotiating with the Defendant or consider arranging a mediation.
For certain types of dispute, specific steps must be taken before starting a claim. These are known as pre-action protocols. If you are unsure whether one of these protocols applies to your case it is advisable that you seek legal advice.
Detailed guidance as to how the form should be completed can be found here. Remember to include accurate details of the person or company who you are claiming against, concise details of the nature of your claim and the amount of money you are seeking to recover. If you wish to recover interest on the money owed to you, you must say so.
Make sure to pay the appropriate Court fee. For small claims the fee will be between £25 and £455, further details can be found here.
Once you have filed the claim, the Court will send you a Notice of Issue confirming the date the Defendant’s defence is due. The Defendant may apply for an extension to this period and the Court will notify you if they do so.
If the Defendant fails to respond within the relevant time frame, you can obtain a “Judgment in Default”. This is a Court order requiring that they pay you the sum claimed. This can be requested by returning the slip at the bottom of the Notice of Issue or, for online claims, via the claims website.
If the Defendant admits that the amount you are claiming is owed by them, they may request additional time in which to pay you. If you agree to this, you should ask the Court to make an order in the proposed terms. This can be requested by returning the slip at the bottom of the Notice of Issue or, for online claims, via the claims website.
If you do not agree to the proposed payment terms, you should return the same slip detailing why this is the case. A Judge will then decide a reasonable means of payment.
The Defendant may deny responsibility for the claim by filing a defence, defending the entirety of the claim, defending the claim and stating that they are owed money, admitting the claim and stating that they are owed money, defending part of the claim or stating that they have already paid the money owed.
If the claim is defended in its entirety, the Court will send you and the Defendant a copy of the defence and a “directions questionnaire”. This is a form which you must complete and return to the Court for review. The Court will use these questionnaires to decide how your claim should be dealt with going forwards.
If the Defendant defends part of the claim, you will be sent a document stating how much they admit is owed. You may either accept this sum, in which case you should ask the Court to make an order in the terms agreed, or reject it. Should you choose the latter the Court will send you a directions questionnaire as above.
If the Defendant states that they have already paid the amount claimed, you will receive a notice and a copy of their defence. If you agree that they have paid, you should complete the “Claimant’s reply” section of the notice and return it to the Court. If you do not agree the Court will send you a directions questionnaire and the matter will proceed.
When completing the directions questionnaire you should consider whether you would like to make use of the small claims free mediation service. This is an opportunity to achieve settlement without incurring further costs and Judges expect you to at least attempt to settle the claim in this way.
A Judge will consider both parties directions questionnaires and allocate the case to a track. For the majority of claims (excluding personal injury claims) worth less than £10,000 this will be the small claims track. You will be sent a “Notice of Allocation” confirming the track and setting out what you need to do to prepare for a final hearing.
Make sure to follow the instructions, known as directions, set out in the Notice of Allocation carefully. They will confirm by when evidence must be filed in support of your claim, details of any experts permitted to attend the hearing, and the date and location of the hearing. As the ‘Claimant’ you will be responsible for payment of the ‘hearing fee’, details of which will be provided on the Notice.
Unless your matter is particularly complex it will be listed for just one hearing, known as a final hearing. In some instances, a Judge may order that a claim can be considered without a hearing. The Notice of Allocation will confirm whether this is the case.
At the hearing the Judge will allow you to present your claim and any evidence you have filed in support. Make sure to have any documents which you intend to rely upon with you and that these are organised prior to the hearing.
The Judge will then allow the Defendant the opportunity to ask you about your case and the evidence. You too will then have the opportunity to ask the Defendant questions. If permitted, witnesses will also be questioned at this stage.
Unless it is necessary to adjourn the case, the Judge will provide a decision at the end of the hearing and explain his reasons for that decision. He may allow the sum claimed in full, allow part of the sum claimed or dismiss the claim in its entirety. After the hearing you will be sent a copy of the judgment which will include details of when and how any monies owed should be paid.
If you are unhappy with the Judge’s decision you may be able to appeal. You will usually require a Judge’s permission to do so and appeals can only be made on very limited grounds. Provided you obtain the relevant permission you must file your appeal within 21 days.