Guide to small claims through the County Court.
Small claims are limited to up to £10,000, typically they come from claims for compensation for faulty services provided, compensation for faulty goods or for unpaid bills. They also include disputes between landlords and tenants – for example, rent arrears or compensation for not doing repairs, road traffic accident claims or wages owed.
The Court will always expect the parties in dispute to have tried to resolve matters before Court proceedings are started. If all attempts to settle a matter fail it is only then that Court action should be considered – going to court is a last resort. However, if there is no other option, a Small claim through the County Court is designed to be a low cost simple procedure that someone without a legal background or knowledge can bring for themselves. The reality is that for some people the language used and the presumption of some knowledge of the law makes the process difficult.
The legal terms begin from the very start of the process with filling in the Claim Form, the N1, with anyone who bringing a claim being referred to as a ‘claimant’, whilst anyone who defends a claim is called a ‘defendant’. Later on in the form, you are asked to provide “the particulars of claim”. Put simply this section needs the detail of what the issue is. It should provide the Court and the Defendant with enough information to know what the complaint is about. Sometimes you also need to provide additional papers to the Court for example if the matter relates to an unpaid debt, a copy of the invoice would be required.
If the matter involves an unpaid debt then the forms can be done electronically and submitted to the Court via the Money Claim Online service available at http://www.moneyclaim.gov.uk . If it is a claim for anything other than money you should send or take two copies of the claim form to the County Court. Whichever way you start a claim there is a fee payable to the Court – the application fee. The fee amount varies according to whether the claim is made online and the value of the claim, full details of the fee are available from https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/789201/ex50-eng.pdf
The Court Centre or County Court will impress a seal on the claim form and in most cases will then send it to the Defendant, so that in legal terms it is “served” upon the defendant. As the Claimant you will know whether you have started your claim successfully when the court sends you a “Notice of Issue”. There are strict rules and timetables that you must follow once a claim has begun. Failure to do so could influence the outcome.
The papers sent to a Defendant explains what they should do. A Defendant has 14-days to acknowledge that they have received the Court papers and then if they send that acknowledgment back and they wish to “defend” the claim a further 14-days to send details of that defence to the Court.
When the Court receives the acknowledgement of service, the Court will update the Claimant by sending them form N10. The N10 informs them when the acknowledgement of service was received, whether the Defendant intends defending the claim, informs whether the Defendant has appointed a Solicitor and of any changes in the name and address of the Defendant.
If the Court does not receive an acknowledgement of service from the Defendant or if having acknowledged service, the Defendant then fails to provide a defence within the time set, the Claimant can seek a “Default Judgement”. This means that the Court issues an order in favor of the Claimant. The Order then gives the Claimant the right to seek payment of that sum from the Defendant and depending on the value of the claim that can involve, at the Claimant’s further expense, the appointment of Bailiffs to recover the money. There are of course several enforcement options available.
If the claim is defended, then the Court process will continue. What happens next will depend on the reason the claim is brought. It can involve the need for completion of a questionnaire, providing “Witness statements” (which is a record of what happened and the effects of those events/actions) and can lead to a hearing in Court. It should be noted that the parties to the dispute can settle the matter between themselves at any point up until the Court Hearing.
If a matter reaches a Court hearing, the matter will generally be heard before a Judge in the Court Centre nearest the home of the Claimant. Depending on the relative proximity of the two parties, that may involve considerable travel costs for the Defendant to actually attend a hearing. In Small claims, generally each side bears their own costs however you should also be aware that if you bring a small claim and are unsuccessful, or as the defendant in a small claim you put the other side to unnecessary cost and then lose, the court has a discretion to make an order for you to pay the costs that the other side has incurred if you have acted unreasonably.