Making a claim against a company or individual and going to court isn’t something that anyone relishes. It takes time and effort to go through the process, but sometimes you may be left with no other option. However, don’t be put off making a claim. If you’ve exhausted all other options, such as mediation, then making a claim may be your only option to get the money you are owed.
Small Claims Court
The small claims process is there for most contractual consumer issues. These can range from unfairly issued parking tickets to retailers who refuse to take responsibility for their faulty goods.
In England and Wales, the limit that the small claims court will deal with is £10,000. However, there are key exceptions to this. You cannot claim up to this amount for an issue around housing disrepair or personal injury - these have a limit of £1,000.
If your claim falls under these limits but is particularly complex, a judge may decide that it cannot be heard in the Small Claims Court.
To pursue a claim outside of the small claims track can be more complicated and costly. It is also advisable to instruct a solicitor to prepare your case.
Using the Small Claims Court should cost you relatively little in fees as you are able to put the case forward yourself. However, you will be expected to pay the relevant fees in advance, in order to take a claim to court.
The total you must pay depends on how much you’re claiming for. It also depends on how far your claim goes through the court process.
To start the process, you need to visit the HM Courts & Tribunals Service (Her Majesty’s Court Service) online or your local court to get a claim form as well as the other documents that explain the small claims process. Recently, the online system has been modernised to make it quicker and easier to make a claim for money owed and resolve disputes out of court as well as access mediation.
You must ensure you’ve complied with all the steps that are set out in the Practice Direction on Pre-Action Conduct before you start court action. If you haven’t and proceed anyway, you may be penalised by the court.
If you’ve taken all the steps required to avoid court action but the situation hasn’t been resolved, then you’ll need to complete all the required forms.
Information you will need
When filling in the forms, you will need the full name an address of the defendant. If the defendant is a company, the address that you will give is that of the registered office of that company. If that is not available then a trading address will suffice.
You must then set out the full reason for your claim and the sum that you are claiming from the defendant.
Once the forms have been completed, the court will log the document and assign it a claim number.
Mediation isn’t mandatory. However, it can be an effective way to settle your dispute out of court.
After you begin the claim, you will be asked if you would like to be referred to a mediation service. If you unreasonably refuse to give mediation a try, or if you are unreasonable in the conduct of the case, this could mean that penalties are made against you. (This would be at the discretion of the judge.)
You will be assigned a mediator who will ensure both parties are aware that the process is not a judicial hearing. The mediator will not take sides, they are there in a neutral role.
The outcome of mediation is not always monetary. It can take the form of an apology or an agreement that the other party will exchange the faulty goods.
Mediation does not always end in the settlement of the dispute. If it does and you sign a settlement agreement at the end of mediation, the agreement is binding on you.
After the form filling
You must give the defendant a chance to send a defence. This will take the form of explanation of why they’re disputing your claim. Alternatively, the defendant may accept your claim in full or in part.
The person or business who is the defendant must respond to your claim. You will be sent a letter or email informing you of the date they need to respond by. Within that time, they can either file a defence or an Acknowledgement of Service. If they file an Acknowledgment of Service within 14 days, they then have a further 14 days in which to file their defence.
No defence filed
If the defendant does not file a defence, you can ask the court to order the defendant to pay if they don’t respond to your claim. The court may grant your claim in full or they may set a hearing date to decide how much you should receive.
If the other side files a defence to your claim, the court will then assign a date for the case to be heard.
While you are waiting for this, you will receive a Directions Questionnaire. The court uses this to decide how complex your case is and how long it will take to hear. A set of directions from the court will also be issued as the case moves towards the hearing. For example, this could direct both parties to share documents they will refer to during the hearing.
Within the small claims court, it is standard to exchange evidence between both parties 14 days prior to the hearing date. At this point, it may be easier to settle the dispute out of court.
If you win the case, the judge will state how long the defendant has to pay you the sum you have been awarded. In many cases, this is one month. This amount can include your expenses such as court fees, reasonable travelling expenses, the costs of hotels and up to £90 for loss of earnings.
You can also ask the same for any witnesses you called, if it was vital to your case for them to attend the hearing.
If your claim is unsuccessful, you may have to pay the other side's costs if they ask the court for them to be paid and the judge agrees. Any terms of the Court Order that the judge makes must be followed by yourself.
If you lose your case, you do have the right of appeal. The case will be heard again at a higher court. It is essential that you seek professional legal advice before taking this step.
This article was contributed by Richard Boyd of North Yorkshire Law
DISCLAIMER: This article should not be regarded as constituting legal advice in relation to particular circumstances. It is merely a general comment on the relevant topic. If specific advice is required in connection with any of the matters covered, please speak to North Yorkshire Law directly.
Published on 17th October 2018
(Last updated 23rd October 2018)