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Small Claims Basics

Welcome to the small claims section of the DYJ site. On the following pages you should find all the guidance you will need to successfully bring or defend a small claim.

First of all we would recommend that you have a look at our brief introduction to the small claims court itself. There may be more suitable alternatives to commencing legal action. Alternatively your claim may simply not be suitable for the small claims court at all.

Finally there is the DYJ Routemap. This is our own simple step by step guide to the Small Claims Court process from start to finish. Simply click on any of the steps to access all the vital information you will need to deal with that part of the claim. The Routemap can be read at the beginning of a claim for an overview of the legal process or used as a reference guide at each key stage of the claim.

If there’s anything you feel we’ve missed or if you have any questions about your claim then e-mail us straight away.

What is the small claims court ?

What exactly is the small claims court? What’s  special about it?

When is a Court not a Court?
It may surprise you to learn that there is in fact no such thing as the Small Claims Court! Claims are issued in the County Court and then allocated to the Small Claims Track. However, the term has passed into our vocabulary and although technically incorrect it continues to be used by lawyers and Judges, as well as the man or woman in the street.

The Small Claims Track
All cases issued in the County Court are allocated to one of three Tracks; the Multi Track, (which is for complex, high value claims), the Fast Track (which most moderate value claims are allocated to), and the Small Claims Track. The two factors which differentiate the Small Claims Track from the others are:-

  • It's informal procedure.
  • The level of costs that a winning party can recover from the other side.

Informal Procedure
The rules which govern proceedings in the Small Claims Court reflect the fact that it is intended for use by ordinary people who haven't had any legal training. In general procedure is much less formal than other Courts. Judges appreciate that most people using the system will have little or no previous legal knowledge or experience. The system aims to provide people with a quick and efficient means of legal redress the cost of which is kept in proportion to the value of the dispute.

What is a small claim ?

What claims can be taken through the small claims court. How much can be claimed?

The term "small claim" is generally applied to any legal dispute where the value of the claim is currently anything up to £10,000.

As ever, there are exceptions to this general rule. The threshold for personal injury claims for instance is currently only £1,000. The same applies to
any claim which includes a claim by a tenant of residential premises against his landlord for repairs or other work to the premises which are estimated to total not more than £1,000. It does not apply to claims for harassment or unlawful eviction regarding residential premises.

If county court proceedings are started, small claims will be allocated by the court to the "small claims track" (commonly known as the Small Claims Court). Claims exceeding these limits will generally be allocated to a different track where, most crucially, the "no costs" rule will not apply.

If your dispute is for more than £10,000 then you can reduce the claim in order to place it within the scope of the small claim procedure; though the complexity of the case could mean that it will be allocated to another Track anyway.

It is also worth mentioning that the rules allow people to agree to a claim being dealt with under the Small Claims procedure even if the value of the claim exceeds the qualifying amount. However the "no costs" rule does not apply in these circumstances.

The financial limits are regularly reviewed and the government are always threatening to increase them further in the near future. You should check the position with the court before you embark upon a claim to ensure that your claim falls within the Small Claims court jurisdiction.

Types of Disputes

Consumer disputes such as buying a “used car” which isn’t up to scratch are the most common types of small claim. Others include:

  • Claims for unpaid debts, loans or deposits
  • Claims for poor or substandard services
  • Claims for payment for goods or services provided
  • Claims for "minor" personal injuries
  • Claims for professional negligence
  • Claims for rent arrears
  • Claims for damage to property

Generally speaking any dispute which falls within its financial limits will be suitable for the Small Claims Court, so long as it is not unusually complicated or involves a complex issue of law. The chief exceptions to this general rule are claims for unfair dismissal (which are dealt with by employment tribunals) and housing possession actions.

Is court your only option ?

Don’t be in too much of a hurry to go to Court. Try every means possible to resolve the problem amicably.

The Last Resort
Although our website is designed to help you to bring or defend a claim in the small claims court we must stress this is very much the remedy of last resort.

Claimants should make every effort to resolve the dispute by agreement before thinking about issuing Court proceedings. Not only can this be quicker, cheaper and less stressful but by negotiating a fair settlement you are avoiding the risk of losing the claim or failing to collect any money awarded to you.

Be flexible in your negotiations no matter how strong your case is. Virtually every person who brings or defends a claim is convinced that their case is a strong one. However there is a big difference between thinking you have a good case and being able to prove it to the satisfaction of a Judge.

The Court will expect you to have done your utmost to settle the claim by negotiation and Judges are not impressed by claimants who issue a claim at the drop of a hat or by Defendant's who try to defend the indefensible.

In attempting to resolve your dispute out of court you should consider the following options.

Making a Complaint
Contact the other party and tell them about your dissatisfaction. Invite them to put forward their proposals for resolving the matter amicably.

Many companies and organisations have a formal complaints procedure. If they have one - follow it.

Ask whether your opponent is a member of a trade association or professional body. If so, find out whether they operate a voluntary arbitration, conciliation or mediation service. These schemes can also often deal with claims that are above the small claims limit, and generally offer a more flexible, cheaper and less formal way of resolving a dispute.

Find out whether a fee is payable and how long it is likely to take to have the matter resolved. As a result of your enquiries you may decide that it will be better for you to pursue the claim this way then by going to Court.

Letter of Claim
If informal attempts to settle the matter fail; put your grievance in writing. Indeed, before any Court proceedings are commenced you are advised to write to the Defendant setting out the basis of your claim and inviting settlement. These letters are often termed "letters before action" or "letters of claim". You can find example Letters of Claim in your DYJ toolkit simply by selecting the "Precedent Letters" icon.

This should be an open letter (i.e not marked "without prejudice"). It should set out the basic facts of the dispute and identify the grounds upon which the claim is being pursued. If you are able to support your claim with any law then do so. Remember also to specify the amount you seek.

It is a worthwhile investment of your time to prepare the letter as thoroughly as possible as it can form the basis of the "Particulars of Claim" if Court proceedings later have to be issued.

Remember that if a claim is issued then all relevant documents will have to be disclosed and this will include any correspondence that is not marked "without prejudice". When drafting the letter bear in mind that the Judge will have a copy in front of him or her when hearing your case. If you have conducted your case reasonably then you are likely to gain the Courts sympathy and will be in a stronger position on costs; which to a large extent are at the discretion of the District Judge.

Without Prejudice Proposals
Finally consider putting forward compromise proposals. If you do not want the Court to subsequently see what you have offered then head these "without prejudice". You can use "without prejudice" letters to narrow the issues in dispute or reach agreement on the case as a whole. Consider putting a time limit on acceptance of any offer. For instance you may wish to end your letter:-

"These proposals will remain open for a period of 21 days. If they are not accepted within that period then they will be withdrawn."

If your opponent does not accept your offer, you will then be free to continue to pursue your claim for the full amount and the Judge will not find out about your proposals until after judgment is given.