If a person or business owes you money and won’t pay, you can take them to court to try to get what you are due.
For claims of less than £10,000, you can use the small claims court – this is formally known as the ‘small claims track’ of a county court. If your claim is for personal injury, the upper limit is just £1,000.
The small claims court is designed to be a simpler and cheaper alternative to full-blown litigation, with no need to pay for professional legal advice.
Alternatives to court
The government recommends initially attempting to resolve your problem via a mediation service, which is likely to be cheaper. The Ministry of Justice website has a section that can help you find a civil mediation provider in your area.
For claims of £5,000 or less, a one-hour mediation session costs £60 and may be conducted by phone.
By way of comparison, filing a court claim for £5,000 would cost £185 online or £205 if done directly to the court.
Making a claim
You can make a claim on the internet through the government’s Money Claim Online service. This can be used by anyone living in the UK but only against people and businesses based in England and Wales.
This is a cheaper option than filing your case directly to the court: for example on a claim of £300 or less, using the online service costs £25 compared with £35 for sending a form to a county court claims centre. For a claim of £10,000, filing online costs £410 compared with £455 for going directly to the court.
For more details of costs, see here.
Your claim should contain details of how much you are claiming and why, as well as your own and the defendant’s particulars.
What happens next?
If the person or company you are taking action against decides not to defend your claim, you should get the money you are owed – plus any interest – without having to go to court or incurring any more costs.
If they decide to contest the case, they will have to make their own submission countering your claims within 14 days.
The court will then decide which track the case should be heard on. If it is not considered suitable for the small claims track, you may need to seek legal advice.
You then need to prepare your case, including the documents you will use in court and any witness statements.
At the end of the court hearing, the judge will tell you if your case has been successful.
In the small claims court you can’t be forced to pay the defendant’s legal fees if you lose, but you may have to cover their expenses for attending court.