The majority of claims which the court receives are small claims. But what does this actually mean?
These are claims which the court can allocate to the small claims track. This should keep time and expense to a minimum to ensure the court’s objectives of dealing with cases fairly and proportionately. ‘Track’ is used for a particular route in which to progress a claim through the court. The ‘small claims court’ is not actually a separate court, just used for claims of a small value.
Small claims are quite specific and, if the claimant wants a fixed amount of money, can be started online at the Money Claim Online service. Otherwise, they begin with a Part 7 claim form (N1).
Small claims procedures are intended to be used by the general public, so that it’s not essential to use a solicitor.
The main characteristic of a small claim is a value of less than £10,000 but there are some exceptions:
a) Personal injury cases; if the claimant is seeking an amount of more than £1000 for pain caused by an injury.
b) Housing disrepair claims – by the tenant of a residential property where the value of the repairs needed is more than £1000.
c) Harassment claims
d) Alleged dishonesty
In disputes of a higher value, provided that they are reasonably simple, the parties can agree to use the small claim process if the court allows this. The usual types of claim found here relate to unpaid invoices for work done/goods provided, faulty goods, payment of wages and disputes over maintenance of rented homes and unpaid rent. However, this is not definitive list.
Many of the usual court processes are not allowed in small claims so disputes can be resolved more easily and inexpensively without including large amounts of evidence or using expert witnesses.
Once the defendant has responded to a claim, the court will send out a ‘directions questionnaire’ (Form N180) to both parties, assuming that the claim is denied or the defendant has his own counterclaim. At this point, most claims under £10,000 have been provisionally allocated to the small claims track.
This questionnaire allows the court to decide the appropriate way forward for the claim; usually the parties are allowed 14 days from the date of notice to complete and return the questionnaire.
How to complete the directions questionnaire
Both parties must provide information about any efforts they have made to settle the dispute already through the use of alternative dispute resolution (ADR).
A free mediation service (by phone) is available where the value is less than £10,000, with both parties and a mediator. It takes around an hour and is quicker than waiting for a court hearing. No-one is ‘forced’ into this, but it is usually a sensible way forward to sorting out the problem.
Information required as follows:
Confirmation that a party wishes the dispute to be referred to mediation – simply tick the box.
Contact details and address for service of court documents (the address to which the court will send all relevant documents relating to the claim). It’s important to ensure that this is correct.
If you think the claim is more complex than originally thought or for some reason it no longer fits with the ‘characteristics of a small claim’, state why here. If there is a good reason for changing this, then you should state whether or not the claim should be in the fast or multi track.
- Provide the name of the most convenient county court hearing centre. To find this, see here .
- Information about experts. The court must give permission for this but the maximum amount that can be recovered for an expert is £750. Generally, experts are not used unless absolutely necessary.
- Information about witnesses; there should be few of these if any at all.
- Provide dates on which a person, expert or witness could not attend for a hearing at court.
Sign the form and return it to the court named on the documents received. This is important as claims which have begun online are usually issued at the Northampton County Court.
No fee is payable when returning the completed form to the court.
Once the court receives the directions questionnaire from both parties, it will send out a notice of allocation confirming that the claim is in the ‘small claims track’. This notice also advises what to do next (‘directions’).
Directions can include a range of things that both parties must do, including:
- Instructions about information the court wants
- Permission to use an expert
- Information about mediation
- Details about a hearing at court before a judge
The court may ask for further information if it cannot decide which track to allocate it to.
Judges are used to people representing themselves (litigant in person) in small claims. Court forms can be completed by legal representatives such as solicitors or by those involved personally although in most small claims, people are able to act for themselves.
It is important that these forms are correctly completed and returned to the court by the deadline given. The court can fail to award costs to a winning person in a claim if they don’t keep to the rules. Costs in small claims are fixed, and the rules on costs are dealt with in a separate article.
This is a brief and general overview of part of the small claim procedure, which will apply to the majority of situations. You should make sure that information used is up to date as this area of litigation changes very fast. If in doubt, seek advice.
Lecturer in Civil Litigation
DISCLAIMER: This article should not be regarded as constituting legal advice in relation to particular circumstances. This article is merely a general comment on the relevant topic.