4 February 2019
Guide To The Small Claims Court
Disputes and disagreements are common in business. They are stressful and worrying if you’re in the middle of them, particularly when money is involved or your reputation is at stake. If someone owes your business money, or hasn’t kept to an agreement, or has provided you with faulty goods or service, you may need to take them to court.
If your claim is fairly straightforward and has a financial value of £10,000 or less it will be suitable for the small claims court. In fact, this is not a separate court – it is the usual county court, but the case will be put into (‘allocated’ to) the ‘small claims track’. The courtrooms and judges are the same, but the procedures are more streamlined.
The small claims system is intended to be used by litigants in person – parties who are not represented by a solicitor. While not using a solicitor may mean a saving on legal fees, it is not suitable in every case. Even a seemingly straightforward small claim can have complex legal issues, and require the sort of tactical negotiations that lawyers deal with day-in day-out.
How do you start a small claim? You fill in a claim form and send it to the court along with a fee (which ranges from £35 to £455 depending on the value of the claim). The claim form is normally accompanied by a document called particulars of claim which explains the facts behind the claim in more detail.
Once proceedings are formally issued, the court sends a copy of the claim form to the Defendants. They then have 14 days to formally acknowledge receipt, and a further 14 days to admit the claim or file a defence.
The trial before the judge will be short, usually lasting for half a day. It is a relatively relaxed and informal occasion, and a long way from the atmosphere of criminal trials familiar from films and TV. However most cases usually settle before they reach a trial, and so you may never actually get your day in court.
An important question before taking any legal action is, can I afford it? Generally, costs incurred in pursuing a small claim are not recoverable, even if you win.
For more information about dispute resolution and litigation, click here.