The existence of a separate Small Claims Court is a common misconception. The 'small claims track', as it's formally known, is part of the County Court. It typically deals with disputes valued at £10,000 or less, but with reduced formality, and procedures designed to allow businesses and consumers to understand the process without the need to instruct a lawyer throughout.
However, depending on the nature and complexity of your claim, as well as the number of parties and amount of evidence, the court may decide that the small claims track isn’t suitable for you – even if your claim has a value of less than £10,000.
The court may also treat some cases with a value of over £10,000 suitable for the small claims track, but this will only be in cases that are of only a slightly higher value (typically £1,000–£2,000 over) that arguably aren’t truly suitable for the next track up.
As with any disagreement, your first priority is likely to be finding ways to resolve differences outside of court, as this is typically much cheaper and less disruptive than litigation. The court will also expect you have taken these steps, to be able to demonstrate the steps you’ve reasonably taken, and to be approaching them on a last resort basis.
Resolving your dispute outside of the court process is known as alternative dispute resolution (ADR), and you can find out more about the options available to you in our guide to ADR.
But, if you’ve exhausted all ADR options, and your claim falls under the small claims £10,000 threshold (or close), you may decide you’ve no choice but to issue a county court claim.
We’ve set out below the steps you can expect to take.
1. Gather your evidence
Evidence that you present to the court can consist of a range of items – contracts, invoices, and other documents; objects such as faulty products, and witness statements corroborating your position, for example.
The court will base their decision on whether your case has been proved on the balance of probabilities – in other words, that it’s more likely that your claim is accurate than inaccurate.
So, before you apply to the court, make sure that you have gathered evidence that you’re confident will support your case.
To increase your chances of winning your case, you must present as much evidence as you can in the most transparent way that you can. The court will find it difficult to find in your favour if it can’t understand your case, so explaining your position clearly and concisely is key
This evidence will later need to be presented to the court in advance of a hearing, but it’s best to prepare now.
A good advisor will be able to help you produce both robust documentation that is well-evidenced, and a well-argued case. That advisor may, conversely, point out where there are weaknesses in your position, manage your expectations, point out your options and help you to present the best case you can, while helping you to manage or minimise the risk of the court concluding that your case is without merit and imposing a costs order on you (requiring you to pay your own and your counterparty’s costs). In some cases, they may advise you against this course of action altogether and propose alternative courses of action instead.
2. Make your claim
You’ll need to file a copy of this form with the court, (which you can do online – if you meet the criteria for doing so). The court will issue the claim, and will serve a copy for you on the counterparty in the dispute (called the defendant).
Your claim form should include:
1. Your name and address
If you're trading under a business name as a sole trader, you should write your name followed by ‘trading as’ and then your business name. If you’re a limited company, you must use the word ‘Limited’ after the company name, and you should add the words ‘a firm’ after your business name if you’re a partnership
2. The name and address of the defendant (the party you’re claiming against)
It’s very important that you use the correct details here. This means the person’s name followed by ‘trading as’ and the business name if the defendant is a sole trader; the names of the partners if the defendant is a partnership; or the name and registered office if the defendant is a limited company (if you’re not sure, the Companies House’s website should be able to confirm this)
The court rules specify certain addresses at which a claim form may be served (if you don’t use the correct address you risk delays later on, so best to get it right at the outset).
3. A brief description and the details (called ‘particulars’) of what you’re claiming, as well as the remedy you’re looking for
The brief statement can be as simple as writing ‘payment for services’ – you will go into more details in ‘particulars of claim’.
Quite simply, the amount you’re claiming – not including interest or costs at this point.
If you’re unsure of your claim’s value, you can say so on your form, but give your best estimate because this will affect the fee you pay. For example, you could say ‘up to £5,000.00’.
If you’ve valued your claim as more than £10,000 but want the ease, speed, and lower cost of the small claims track compared to other tracks, you may limit your claim to £10,000.
5. Your most convenient court location
You will be issuing your claim in one of the court’s bulk processing offices, but can say which is the most convenient if the matter proceeds to a hearing. The court will take this into account, but they will often favour the defendant’s choice if you can’t agree. If you don’t know where your local county court is, you can check here
6. Defendant’s name and address for service
This is where the court will serve the claim, so see the rules above. Indeed, this will normally just be the same address that you’ve already given earlier on in the form.
7. Amount claimed
This is the principal sum claimed, together with interest and any late payment charges.
8. Court fee
The amount of the claim determines the court fee that must be paid to issue the claim. The up-to-date fee scale can be found on the Court Service website
9. Particulars of Claim
This is where you set out what you are claiming, and why. Try to follow a structure, and be clear and concise.
The aim is to set out the legal and factual basis of your claim. You can provide the evidence that proves it at a later date. It's not necessary at this point to refer to every single piece of evidence you want to rely on, or detail and attach every single email that has passed between the parties!
A useful structure is to set out, in order, the relationship between the parties (e.g. the contract), what the other party has done wrong (e.g. supplying defective goods or negligent services), what effect that has had (e.g. the need to get goods repaired, or get replacement services) and a calculation of the loss that has resulted.
If there is insufficient space on the form, you can always attach the Particulars of Claim as a separate document. Depending on the type of your case, there are some guidelines on the source of information the court will want to see included here, although there is usually a degree of latitude in small claims cases
10. A signed statement of truth
This should be signed by either you or your solicitor, and it essentially confirms to the court that the facts you’ve stated are accurate. This is a serious matter, so double check to make sure everything’s right.
Don't forget to add a statement of truth to your particulars, if you send them to the defendant directly, otherwise your claim could be invalid, and you may need to pay out costs.
3. Pay the appropriate filing fees
The exact fees will depend on the value of your claim. In addition to the fee for issuing your claim, if the matter progresses you will also need to pay a hearing fee – unless you’re the defendant and you’ve raised a counter-claim. Again, the exact figures of this will depend on your individual claim.
If you win your case, you’ll usually be able to claim back both of these fees – as well as witness’ expenses – from your counterparty. However, only very limited sums can normally be recovered for lawyer’s fees, if you’ve decided to instruct one.
If there are any other fees to pay, the court will let you know in advance.
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