This advice applies to England. Change country
There are some common terms used in this item:-
- claimant - the person making the claim
- defendant - the person/firm against whom the claim is being made
- the claim form - the form for starting a case
- service - the defendant receiving papers from the court
- enforcement proceedings - the claimant applying to the court for an order to make the defendant pay.
This information is about small claims cases. A small claims case is a defended case which the court has allocated to the small claims track. There are special rules about small claims cases and the procedures are described in this information.
If you have a case which is allocated to a track which is not a small claims track, you should consult an experienced adviser, for example, a Citizens Advice Bureau. To search for details of your nearest CAB, including those that can give advice by email, click on nearest CAB.
In most cases, the court will not order solicitors’ costs to be paid by the losing party in a small claims case, and if you instruct a solicitor you will have to pay the costs yourself. For this reason most claimants deal with a small claim without the help of a solicitor. It is possible to have the help of a friend or ‘lay representative’, for example, some Citizens Advice Bureaux can offer trained advisers to help people with small claims.
When the court is considering whether to allocate a case to the small claims track, it will take into account a number of factors, but the main factor is the financial value of the case.
If the value of a case is £10,000 or less, it will generally be allocated to the small claims track. However, if it is a personal injury claim, it will be allocated to the small claims track only if the value of the claim for the personal injuries themselves is not more than £1,000. If the claimant is a tenant, and is claiming against their landlord because they want their landlord to carry out repairs or other work to the premises and the cost of the repairs or work is £1,000 or less, the case will be allocated to the small claims track.
In some cases, even if the value of the case is more than £10,000 the court could allocate the case to the small claims track. If this happens the usual rule about costs does not apply and if the claimant loses the case, they may have to pay the defendant’s solicitor’s costs. However, if the claimant wins the case, the defendant could be ordered to pay the claimant's costs.
The most common types of claim in the small claims track are:
- compensation for faulty services provided, for example, by builders, dry cleaners or garages
- compensation for faulty goods, for example, televisions or washing machines which go wrong
- disputes between landlords and tenants, for example, rent arrears or compensation for not doing repairs
- wages owed or money in lieu of notice.
If a case is complex, the judge may refer it to another track for a full hearing, even if it is below the financial limit of that track.
If you have a complex case you should consult an experienced adviser, for example, a Citizens Advice Bureau. To search for details of your nearest CAB, including those that can give advice by email, click on nearest CAB.
If you are going to take court action, you must do this within certain time limits. The time limit depends upon what type of action you are taking, for example, the time limit for breach of contract is six years.
You will need to be aware of the time limits for taking action and should seek help from an experienced adviser, for example, a Citizens Advice Bureau. To search for details of your nearest CAB, including those that can give advice by email, click on nearest CAB.
You must try and settle a claim before taking court action. If you do not try to settle first, the court may penalise you. So, for example, if a television does not work, there is no point in applying to the court immediately for compensation - you must contact the shop which sold it first to try to solve the problem, and only use the court if you cannot get the problem solved by negotiation. The court will expect you to make your claim in writing, giving the other person a reasonable time to reply – a month is usual. You should also warn them that you will take court action if they fail to reply within the given time.
You may be able to sort out your claim by using mediation if the other party agrees. This is where an impartial third party, called a mediator, helps both parties to reach a mutually-agreeable solution to a problem. Sometimes even if you start a claim, the court might refer your case to a mediator.
You can find a local mediation provider by using the tool on the Ministry of Justice website at www.justice.gov.uk. You will be charged a fixed fee.
You can find further information about mediation on the Civil Mediation Council website at www.civilmediation.org
The court also offers free telephone-based mediation through its Small Claims Mediation Service. This is available to all small claims which are defended, and if both parties agree to it.
Any money claim must be issued at the County Court Money Claims Centre. Other cases can be issued in the local county court.
The court will then transfer the case automatically to the defendant’s nearest county court if:
- the case is defended, and
- the claim is for a fixed amount, and
- the defendant is an individual, not a company.
In other cases, either party can ask for the case to be transferred to another county court.
Contact details of county courts
You can use the court finder tool to find details of your local county court on the GOV.UK website at www.gov.uk.
If you are disabled and going to court, you should check with the court what facilities there are for disabled people. You can find details of local access facilities on the GOV.UK website at www.gov.uk.
If access to the court is impossible because of your disability, the case may be transferred to a more suitable court.
As a claimant, you start a claim by filling in a claim form (N1). Claim forms are available from local courts, and from HM Courts and Tribunals service at www.justice.gov.uk.
The claim form asks for details of the claimant and the defendant and how much is being claimed. The claim form includes space for the particulars of claim which should be used to set out the details of the claim, but if there is not enough room, they can be set out on a separate piece of paper. In some circumstances, as a claimant you might need extra time to complete the particulars of claim. You have the right to send the particulars of claim to the defendant separately, but no later than 14 days after the claim form.
If the details of the case are complicated, you should consult an experienced adviser, for example, a Citizens Advice Bureau. To search for details of your nearest CAB, including those that can give advice by email, click on nearest CAB.
As the claimant, you may be able to claim interest on your claim. If so, you must include interest in the amount you are claiming on the claim form. There is a specific form of words you should use to do this. For more information about claiming interest, see the guidance notes that come with the claim form.
In some circumstances, additional documents need to be attached to the particulars of claim. For example, if the claim is based on a written agreement (such as an agreement to purchase goods or services), a copy of the agreement should be attached to the statement of claim.
Some claims for a fixed amount of money can be started online at www.moneyclaim.gov.uk. Usually, claims will be issued, printed and sent to the defendant on the day the claim is submitted. Court fees for online claims must be paid by credit or debit card.
As the claimant you should send or take two copies, of the claim form to the court where you want to start court action.
Any money claim must be issued at the County Court Money Claims Centre. Other cases can be issued in the local county court.
You should keep an extra copy for your own records. You must also pay the court a fee. The amount will depend on how much money you claim.
If your income is low, the fee can be waived or reduced. This is called a fee remission.
You can ask the court to tell you how to apply for a fee remission or you can get more information and the exemption form from HM Courts and Tribunals Service service at www.justice.gov.uk.
The court will stamp the claim form and in most cases serve it on the defendant. It will give you a notice of issue, a document with the case number on it.
Usually the court will serve the claim form by sending it to the defendant by first class post. The defendant will be deemed to receive it on the second business day after posting, unless the claim was issued online. As the claimant, if you want to serve it yourself, you can ask the court to give it back to you once it has been stamped so that you can serve it. There are a number of forms that must be sent with the claim form.
If you are the defendant and you accept that you owe the money claimed, you will not be defending the case and the court will not allocate it to the small claims track to be dealt with.
If you can pay the money immediately, you should send it to the claimant directly.
If you need time to pay, you can suggest an arrangement, for example, that you pay the money in instalments or all the money in one lump sum at a certain date in the future. If the claimant accepts this offer, they will have to return a form to court requesting ‘judgment on admission’. If you are the defendant and you do not keep to the arrangement, the claimant can take legal action forcing you to pay.
If you are the claimant and you do not accept the defendant's offer, you must give your reasons and a court official will decide what a reasonable arrangement should be. The court will send both parties an order for payment (‘judgment for claimant after determination’).
If you are the claimant and you are not happy with the order, you should write to the court giving your reasons and you must send a copy of the letter to the defendant. A judge will then decide what is reasonable for the defendant to pay. If the defendant does not keep to the arrangement, the claimant can take enforcement action.
If you are the defendant and you do not accept that you owe the money that is being claimed, you will be defending the case. You have to respond to the claim form and the particulars of claim within 14 days of the date of service (this is the second day after posting). If the particulars of claim were served after the claim form, you must respond within 14 days of the date of service of the particulars of claim.
As the defendant, if you do not send a defence in to the court, the claimant can ask for an order to be made against you. If this happens, the parties involved should consult an experienced adviser, for example, a Citizens Advice Bureau. To search for details of your nearest CAB, including those that can give advice by email, click on nearest CAB.
As the defendant, you can send your defence to the court. However, if you need more time to prepare a defence, you can send back an acknowledgement of service and then the defence within 14 days (the acknowledgement of service would be sent to the defendant initially with the claim form).
When the defence is returned to the court, the court will send a directions questionnaire to both the claimant and defendant. This must be returned no later than the date specified on it. As the claimant, when you return the directions questionnaire, you have to pay a fee although this may be waived on financial grounds. The court will use the information given on the directions questionnaire to decide which track the case will be allocated to.
If both parties indicate on their directions questionnaires that they would consider mediation, the court can offer free telephone-based mediation service. You can find out more if you search for a leaflet called Would you like to settle your case without going to a court hearing? (EX730) at www.justice.gov.uk.
When the court has decided to allocate the case to the small claims track, the parties will be sent a notice of allocation. This form will tell the parties what they have to do to prepare for the final hearing. These instructions are called ‘directions’. For example, the parties may be told to send copies of all the documents they intend to use to the court and to the other party at least 14 days before the hearing is due to take place. You must follow these directions. If you don't, the case could be postponed and you could have to pay all the costs of the case.
There are standard directions for a number of common cases, for example, if the claim is to do with faulty goods, there are standard directions about the documents that have to be sent to the other party. If the claimant wants to show a video as evidence, they have to contact the court to make the arrangements for the video to be shown at the hearing.
The notice of allocation will usually specify the time, date and place where the hearing will take place and how much time has been allowed for it.
As the claimant, if you want to attend the hearing, but cannot, you can write to the court and apply for a later date to be set. A fee is payable for this application and the court will agree only if there are good reasons.
As the claimant, you may not wish to attend the court hearing, for example, if the travel costs of getting to the hearing are higher than your claim merits. In this case, you can write to the court to ask it to deal with the claim in your absence. The letter must arrive at court no later than seven days before the hearing date, and a copy must be sent to the defendant.
Sometimes the court will not set a final hearing date at the allocation stage. It could instead:
- propose that the claim is dealt with without a hearing. If the parties do not object, the case will be decided on the papers only. If the parties do not reply by the date given, the judge may treat the lack of reply as consent
- hold a preliminary hearing. This could happen if the claim requires special directions which the judge wants to explain to the parties personally, or where the judge feels that the claimant (or the defendant) has no real prospect of succeeding and wants to sort out the claim as soon as possible to save everyone time and expense, or if the papers do not show any reasonable grounds for bringing the claim. A preliminary hearing, therefore, could become a final hearing where the matter is decided once and for all.
It is important to prepare the case carefully - the court has to be convinced. The following points are a general guide to what preparation should be made. But if you are not confident about how to present your case, you should consider taking someone else along to help, and/or getting specialist advice first. The main points are:
- You may wish to get an expert report, for example, on faulty goods (but a report may be used in court only with the permission of the court)
- notes about the case should be set out in date order. It is very useful to note down what your case is, for example, the points to make, the documents which are relevant, and what they prove. A list of all documents, and other evidence is useful to make sure nothing is forgotten
- damaged or faulty goods should be taken as evidence, if possible, for instance, clothes ruined by a washing machine, shoes etc. If this is not possible, photographs could be used instead
- evidence of expenses should be prepared and any receipts taken along
- all letters (and any other relevant documents including photographs) about the case should be ready for the hearing
- in most cases the claimant and the defendant may be the only witnesses. If the court has agreed that other witnesses can attend, they must attend. If a witness has difficulty getting time off work, it may be helpful to serve a witness summons. The court can explain how to do this
- if you wish to use an expert witness, you must get the permission of the court first, and you must instruct the expert jointly with the other party in the case.
The final hearing is usually held in public but it could be held in private if the parties agree, or if the court believes it is necessary in the interests of justice.
Hearings in the small claims track are informal and strict rules of evidence do not apply. The judge can adopt any method of dealing with the hearing that they consider to be fair, and they may ask questions of the witnesses before allowing anyone else to do so. The judge may limit the time that parties or witnesses have to give evidence.
A lay representative has the right to speak on behalf of a party at the final hearing, but only if that party attends the hearing.
If you do not speak English as your first language, you might find it helpful to have an interpreter help you to put your case across. The court may be able to help you find an interpreter. Alternatively, an experienced adviser, for example, at a Citizens Advice Bureau might be able to help you find one. To search for details of your nearest CAB, including those that can give advice by email, click on nearest CAB.
At the end of the hearing, the judge will give the judgment. The judge has to give reasons for their judgment. The reasons must be given as simply and briefly as possible, and usually will be given orally to the parties present at the hearing. However, the judge may give them later either in writing or at a later hearing.
If you are the claimant and you win your case, you will get the court fees back as well as the claim, and you can ask for certain expenses also. If you lose, you will not get the court fees back. But it is unlikely that you will have to pay any other costs.
You may appeal against a judgment in the small claims track only if the court made a mistake in law or there was a serious irregularity in the proceedings.
If you want to appeal, you must file a notice of appeal within 21 days from the date of the decision, unless the court has given a different time limit
A fee is payable unless you are entitled to a fee remission.
If you want to appeal against a decision in the small claims track, you should consult a solicitor or an experienced adviser for example, at a Citizens Advice Bureau. To search for details of your nearest CAB, including those that can give advice by email, click on nearest CAB.
As the defendant, if you lose the case and you do not pay, the claimant will have to go back to the same court to apply for an order to get the money. This is called enforcing the judgment. As the claimant, you will have to pay a fee to start enforcement proceedings.
If you need a judgement to be enforced you should consult an experienced adviser for example, at a Citizens Advice Bureau. To search for details of your nearest CAB, including those that can give advice by email, click on nearest CAB.
You can find more information about how to make a small claim in a consumer case in our consumer section Going to court.
You can find more information about small claims cases in a HM Courts and Tribunals Service leaflet called 'The Small Claims Track in the Civil Courts for People Whose Dispute Has Gone to Court'. You can find the leaflet at www.justice.gov.uk.
The Civil Justice Council has also produced 'A guide to bringing and defending a small claim' which you can find at www.judiciary.gov.uk.