In England and Wales, the small claims Court deals with claims for less than £10,000, or £1,000 for personal injury. In Scotland and Northern Ireland the limit is £3,000.
If your case fits these criteria, there are several questions you need to ask yourself before continuing:
- Can I settle out of Court?
- Will I get my money if I win?
- Should I seek help?
- How much will it cost me?
Can I settle out of Court?
The average amount recovered through the small claims Court isn’t much more than the average out-of-Court settlement.
Think about the other less costly avenues open to you. For example, if your complaint is about financial services, you could go to the Financial Ombudsman Service (www.financialombudsman.org.uk or call 0845 080 1800). If it is about a telephone company, refer it to Ofcom, the telecoms ombudsman (www.ofcom.org.uk or call 020 7891 3040).
Will I get my money if I win?
If the person or company you are claiming from has no money, you are very unlikely to get paid. Fortunately, there are ways to find out whether they have been made bankrupt or have unpaid County Court Judgments (CCJ) against them. If they do have an unpaid judgment against them, this means that they have been taken to Court in the past and have not paid.
To find out whether the defendant is bankrupt, contact the Insolvency Service. You can phone on 0845 602 9848 (between 8am and 5pm). More details can be found at www.bis.gov.uk/insolvency.
To find out whether the defendant has County Court Judgements against them, phone the Registry Trust on 020 7380 0133 or write to 173-175 Cleveland Street, London W1P 5PE. More details can be found at www.registry-trust.org.uk.
Should I seek help?
Generally, solicitors’ costs are not recoverable for small claims, even if you win. Making a claim in the small claims Court should be easy and fairly cheap, and you should be able to do it without using a lawyer. However, it is often a good idea to get advice about how to make your particular claim effectively. You can get this advice from your local trading standards office or citizens advice bureau.
How much will it cost me?
In England and Wales, the Court fee varies from £25 to £455, depending on how much you are claiming. If the matter goes to trial a hearing fee of between £25 and £335 will be payable depending on the value of your claim. Please refer to www.justice.gov.uk/courts or contact your local Court for further information and confirmation of the Court fees.
(In Scotland and Northern Ireland these fees will vary, therefore please seek guidance from the local Court).
You may be exempt from paying fees if you receive income support, jobseeker’s allowance or the maximum working family’s tax credit. Please refer to the Court service website for further details.
To stand the best chance of winning, you may have to pay for expert evidence e.g. a doctor, mechanic or surveyor. You can claim up to £200 from your opponent towards this cost if you win the case.
You should be aware that obtaining judgment against your opponent does not guarantee payment. If you win, but your opponent refuses to pay up, you will have to spend money enforcing the order by making further applications to Court – this could cost between £30 – £110 depending on the type of enforcement order you are seeking.
You should also bear in mind the time cost of bringing a claim, as you will need to take time to prepare your case and will probably required to go to a Court hearing if the claim is defended. If you win the case you may be able to claim your travel costs and something towards your lost earnings for the day (approximately £90 per day each for you and any witnesses).