What is the small claims court?
There is not an actual small claims court. Low value claims are dealt with in the small claims track of the civil courts and they are commonly referred to as being in the 'small claims court'.
Cases in which your claim is worth £10,000 or less (or £1,000 or less for personal injury claim or against your landlord for repairs) are usually allocated to the small claims track.
Examples of claims might be:
- faulty services, such as building work or cleaning services
- faulty goods, such as kitchen or office equipment
- disputes between landlords and tenants, such as unpaid rent
- unpaid wages
- unpaid practice fees.
For GP practices, examples may include:
- work done for the NHS under core services and paid for under the SFE
- NHS or LA-commissioned enhanced services
- "collaborative arrangements" i.e. services commissioned by the LA but paid for by the NHS
- any non-NHS services that a practice has provided for any other person or organisation.
If a case is complex, the judge may refer it to another track for a full hearing.
If a GP practice has elected to become an NHS body then it is required to instead use the NHS process for any disputes arising out of the GMS/PMS contract rather than making a court claim.
How to make a claim
Before taking court action, you must try and settle the claim otherwise the court may penalise you.
Write to the person or company you are claiming against setting out the facts and the amount you are seeking. Give a reasonable time to reply (eg. a month), and say you will take court action if they do not reply by then. If you cannot reach a satisfactory resolution or if they do not respond, you can then issue a court claim.
Court action must be taken within certain time limits which depend on the type of claim. For example, the time limit for breach of contract is 6 years.
Fill in claim form (N1) and you can refer to the claim form notes for help with completing the form. You can claim interest on the money you are owed.
If you are claiming a fixed amount of money you can claim online.
Issuing and serving a claim
To issue the claim, send or take two copies of the claim form to your local county court. Money claims must be issued at the County Court Money Claims Centre. You also need to pay the court a fee and the amount will depend on how much money you claim. Find more information on court fees.
The court will usually send (or 'serve') the form to the defendant by first class post. If you want to serve the form yourself, you can ask the court to give it back to you once it's been stamped.
The defendant has 14 days to prepare and serve a defence (or 28 days if they send back an acknowledgement of service within 14 days).
If the defendant does not respond, the claimant can ask for a judgement for the full amount claimed to be made against them.
Directions questionnaire and allocation
Once the court receives the defence, a directions questionnaire will be sent out to both parties with a deadline and a fee will be payable.
Following this, the court will then decide which track the case is allocated to and send both parties a 'notice of allocation'. The notice may contain instructions on things you need to do and have deadlines for these. You must follow these as if you do not, there may be penalties.
Preparation for the hearing
Some pointers for preparing for the hearing are:
- the date, location and time of the hearing are on the notice of allocation
- whether you need any witnesses (but you need permission from the court)
- consider whether you want to take someone with you to the hearing
- whether an expert report would be helpful (but you need permission from the court)
- have a chronological account ready, and cross refer these to the documents or evidence
- write a list of all the documents and note what each document proves
- take all the documents with you to court, including all letters and emails
- also bring evidence of expenses, along with receipts
Hearing and judgment
The hearing is likely to be quite informal. The judge will decide on the schedule for the hearing.
At the end, the judge will give the judgement and talk through their reasons for the order they are making. You might not get this on the day, and sometimes you will receive this in writing or at a later hearing.
If you win your case, you will get the court fees back as well as the money awarded for your claim. It is also possible to request other expenses too. You will not usually get back your legal costs (unlike other tracks).
If the defendant does not comply with the order the judge made, you will need to apply to court for an order to enforce the judgement and a fee must be paid. It may be possible to claim this fee back from the defendant.
Appealing the judgement
You can appeal the judgement if the court has made a mistake in law or there was a serious irregularity in the proceedings.
The deadline for lodging an appeal is usually 21 days from the date of the decision to make an appeal, unless another deadline is specified.
There is more information about small claims in a HM Courts and Tribunals Service leaflet called 'The Small Claims Track in the Civil Courts for People Whose Dispute Has Gone to Court'.
Alternatively, you can look at the Civil Justice Council guide called 'A guide to bringing and defending a small claim' which is found at www.judiciary.gov.uk.