The Procedure for Making Small Claims
Small claims are the final recourse for action if you are unhappy with services or goods that have been supplied to you, and refer, amongst other claims, to court action taken by consumers to settle disputes.
The claim could be an argument over faulty goods or shoddy workmanship for example. 'Small claims' are the procedures handled in county courts and should be seen as the absolute last choice in any dispute.
If All Else Fails…Before going down the route of small claims, be sure you have tried every other way to resolve the issue beforehand. Firstly, of course there is the direct approach, the discussion with the supplier to try and resolve the matter. Failing that, there are arbitration schemes or mediation schemes where a third party can be involved to resolve the dispute, and finally the relevant ombudsman or watchdog who can also help to settle the matter.
These are all what's known as 'alternative dispute resolution' options and details on all of these choices can be found on the Consumer Direct website, but if these still do not resolve the problem, then you may have to resort to court to settle the dispute once and for all. Be aware though, that if your case ends up being heard in court and you have not tried all other routes first, that you could be penalised for this.
Money ClaimsIf it's simply a case of money, you can often action the claim online. This could be for overpayments that are in dispute, or payment for work not completed. It's a form you can complete online at Her Majesty's Court Services website. Read the notes carefully and follow the online instructions.
Where Will Your Claim be Dealt With?Small claims are an arbitration issue rather than a full blown court hearing - the difference between small claims and other arbitration options is that the process and result is binding and backed by a court of law, whereas the other options are by mutual agreement.
Where your claim is heard will depend on the sums involved. For anything up to £5,000 the county court will allocate the hearing to the small claims track. For anything above that and up to £15,000 it must be started in the county court.
Do You Need a Solicitor?With most small claims, the costs will not be awarded to the losing party so if you decide to engage the services of a solicitor you should be prepared to pay them yourself. For this very reason most small claims are handled by the claimant themselves.
A good place to start the ball rolling and ensure you are proceeding correctly is Consumer Direct, or your local Citizen's Advice Bureau. They can often supply lay representatives who are not solicitors to assist with claims.
How to Make a ClaimYou can pick up a form from your local courts, or also from Her Majesty's Court's Service website. If your case is complicated it is very wise to get some help with this. If you don't have legal representation, or a friend perhaps who knows a bit about the law, you can try the Citizen's Advice Bureau who have support options for this kind of thing. Complete the form, giving as much detail as possible, and if you have agreements or contracts which are in dispute, attach copies of all relevant documentation.
You then need to send or hand deliver two copies (three in Northern Ireland) to the court where you want to start the action, and keep a copy for yourself separately, and at the same time, deliver the fee. The fee amount will depend on the claim itself, so do ask when requesting or delivering the form and find out what it will be.
The form is then stamped and 'served' on the defendant. How this is served will depend - most often it is delivered by first class post to the defendant, but if you want to deliver it yourself, you can ask for it back once it has been stamped. When the claim is served, there are a number of forms to be delivered to the defendant too.
What Happens Next?If the defendant is defending the case - i.e. denying what you say is right - he or she must return the forms within 14 days. Then both you and the defendant will be required to complete questionnaires about the case and the court will decide on a course of action, which could include a court hearing.
If the defendant does not defend the case, a number of options are available. They could settle your demands immediately… or make an offer which could include instalments. If you are happy to accept the offer, you will return a form to the court accepting the offer, but if you do not accept the defendant's offer, you will need to respond in writing outlining why you do not accept. The matter is then usually dealt with by the court who will decide on a course of action.