How to launch a small claim in court
You often hear the term "small claims court", where cases are heard in county courts after being placed on a small claims track.
Cases on the small claims track are for disputed monetary amounts of up to £5000, claims of up to £1,000 in cases of personal injury, and up to £1,000 in cases of faulty home repair.
But how does it actually all work? And are you eligible to file for such a case before employing a couple of heavies to help you sort things out? Here are five steps involved in having a county court hear your small claims case.
1. Try to work out an agreement with the other party before making a claim in court. Before actually bringing a claim to court, send the other party a letter notifying him or her that you will take legal action if they do not respond in a timely manner (usually a fortnight). You can find an example of the type of letter you should send here. If you get no satisfaction that way, then...
2. Get a claim form from the County Court, or download it from HM Court Service, then fill it in. You will give your personal details, who you are claiming against, and other specifics of your claim. If it is a personal injury claim, list your expenses and losses, both leading up to the time and anticipated in the future. Keep at least one copy of the form, and give two others to the court when you pay your filing fee. The filing fee will depend on the size of the claim, and your ability to pay it. The court will next serve the claim on the defending party.
3. Have the defendant served, then wait for the response. The "date of service" on the defendant is defined as two days after the claim is filed. From that time the defendant has 14 days in which to respond to the plaintiff. The defendant may agree to your claim, in which case you will need to make arrangements for a lump sum payment, or a schedule of payments over time until the claim is paid. If the defendant does not agree to your claim, you will both be given "allocation questionnaires" which you both send back with the allocation fee. If the case falls in the parameters of the small claims track, that is where it will head. You'll both receive a notice telling the date and time of your hearing.
4. Be on time and attentive at the hearing. During the hearing, strict rules of evidence don't apply, and the judge deals with the hearing in any way that he believes to be fair. You do not need a solicitor, though you may bring a trusted friend with you to the hearing to speak on your behalf. The judge can limit the time parties or witnesses have to give evidence. You can have a lay representative speak on your behalf, but only if they appear in person at the hearing.
5. Wait for the judgment. The judge will render his judgment when the hearing is over. The judge must specify reasons for the judgment and they must be explained in understandable terms. If you win, you'll get the court fees back and the defendant will be ordered to pay your claim. If you lose, you won't get the court fees back, but you will probably not be charged any further costs.
Appeals are only allowed in the case of serious mistakes in the hearing process. If the judge rules in your favour and the defendant fails to pay the debt, you can ask the court to recover the money on your behalf by enforcing a judgment.
Whether it's the actual money or the vindication, the small claims track is a way for those seemingly unresolveable disputes over a few hundred quid to be settled once and for all, without the need for hiring a solicitor. I can think of a couple of times I should have gone this route, actually. Your thoughts?