Strictly speaking there isn’t a “small claims court”, however, claims for less than £10,000 (before 1st April 2013 it was £5,000) in the County Court are usually allocated to the small claims track and these are often referred to by the public as the “small claims court”.
One of the key features of the small claims track is that only limited legal costs are usually recoverable from the opponent. This does not mean that you cannot instruct a solicitor to act for you, however, it does mean that you may not be able to recover all of their charges if you do. Because of this, a lot of claimants and defendants in the small claims track are unrepresented (we call them litigants in person).
This is a step by step guide to starting a small claim.
Step 1 is to try and resolve your dispute before issuing legal proceedings. This can be done by sending the other person a “letter before claim”. The letter should set out what you are claiming and why.
Step 2 is to fill in an N1 Claim Form. The form is fairly self explanatory. A few tips: (1) make sure you put the correct name and address for the defendant, for example, is it Bob the Builder or Bob the Builder Limited? If your contract was with Bob the Builder Limited then you can’t sue Bob the Builder personally. (2) The amount of the court fee is determined by the value of the claim – see court form EX050. (3) You will need to state on the form what your preferred court is. In Essex, there are County Courts in Romford, Chelmsford, Colchester, Southend and Basildon.
Step 3 is to send 2 copies of the N1 Claim Form to the following address:
County Court Money Claims Centre
PO Box 527
You will need to enclose a cheque to cover the court fee. The cheque should be made payable to “HMCTS” (which stands for Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunal Service). For every additional defendant send an extra form eg if there are 2 defendant send 3 forms.
Step 4. Within about 7 days the court should “issue” the claim and send it to the defendant by post. The defendant will then have 14 days to file either an acknowledgement of service or a defence. If they file an acknowledgement of service they will then have a further 14 days (ie 28 days in total) to file their defence.
Step 5. This will depend whether the claim is defended or not. If no defence or acknowledgement of service is filed then you can request judgment in default. This is done by completing the Request for Judgment form at the bottom of the Notice of Issue. This is a form which the court sends the claimant once the claim has been issued.
If the claim is defended then the court will send both parties a Directions Questionnaire to complete and return to the court.
Step 6. Once the court has the Directions Questionnaires back it will make “directions”. For small claims the case will usually be listed for a hearing lasting about 1.5 hours and usually the parties would be required to exchange witness statements and documents no later than 14 days prior to the hearing. The whole process usually takes 3-6 months.
Hastings & Co Solicitors are experts in litigation and disputes based in Chelmsford, Essex, acting for clients throughout Essex.
T. 01245 235 835
Disclaimer: this blog is only intended to give a brief overview of the law and is not a substitute for independent legal advice.