Going to a small claims hearing

This advice applies to Wales. See advice for See advice for England, See advice for Northern Ireland, See advice for Scotland

If you haven’t managed to resolve your problem by starting the claim or through mediation, you’ll probably need to go to a court hearing.

In some cases, the judge thinks it's not worth having a hearing. This might be because you or the person you're disagreeing with (the defendant) doesn't have a strong case or the court thinks it can deal with your claim without a hearing and all sides agree.

At the hearing a judge will ask you some questions. You'll be in a normal room and you'll sit separately from the defendant. The judge won't wear a wig or gown.

Small claims hearings are public so there might be people watching, but usually only people connected to the claim will be there.

Keeping your contact details private

If you need to make sure the defendant doesn't get your contact details, you can apply to the court for an order. 

The court can:

  • make sure the defendant doesn’t get your home address or any other contact details they don’t already have

  • stop your contact details being given to other people involved in the case - for example, a witness

You’ll need to apply to the court using an official form. Talk to an adviser if you want to apply to the court - they can help you fill in the form.

Prepare for the hearing

The court will send you the date of the hearing and instructions on what you need to do. It’s a good idea to chase the court if you haven’t heard anything a month after you made your claim.

Check the date of the hearing

The form telling you when and where the hearing is, and how long it will last, is called a ‘notice of allocation’. You’ll get at least 21 days’ notice of the date of the hearing. You’ll also be told when you need to pay the hearing fee - unless you're getting help with court fees.

If you’re busy that day, try to change your plans. If it’s something important like a hospital appointment that you can’t change, use form N244 to ask for another date. Check the notes on filling in this form. You’ll have to pay a fee of £255 unless you can get help with court fees.

Check what you need to do

The court will write to you saying what you need to do and when. The instructions in the letter or form are called 'directions'.

It’s important to follow the directions. If you don’t:

  • you might have to pay extra costs - for example, if you don’t provide copies of documents you might have to pay the court to copy them

  • the judge could decide to delay or dismiss your claim

  • you might not be able to call your witness

If you’re asked to write a witness statement

A witness statement is a written document where you say what you want the court to know about your dispute. You (and any witnesses you have) might need to write one. You can find out more about writing a witness statement.

You won’t need witnesses for most small claims but it’s useful to have a witness if there’s an important point they can give evidence on - like someone who saw an accident happen.

If you’ve been injured, you might need an expert - like a doctor who can give an opinion on your injury and how well you’ll recover. If you want to use an expert, you’ll have to get the court’s permission first. You’ll have to pay the expert’s fee.

Follow the rules for sending documents

You'll be asked to send copies of documents to the court and the defendant.

You can only send documents to the defendant by email or fax if the other side agrees you can - ask them before you send anything. You should also check if they need the documents sent in a certain way - for example, using a particular file format or size.

It’s also a good idea to send your documents by recorded delivery and keep a copy of the proof of postage. 

When you get the defendant’s evidence

When you get the defendant’s evidence, go through it and make notes on where you disagree with what they’re saying. If you can find any evidence or have a witness to prove that what they’re saying is wrong, send a copy of that evidence to them and to the court. You’ll need to follow the rules about sending documents to defendants.

Get ready for going to court

You should:

  • put in date order the originals of your evidence to take to court - like receipts, photos of damage

  • make notes of the key points if you think that will help you remember them

  • let any witnesses know when they need to be at court

  • tell the court if you need an interpreter - check if you can get one for free

  • check with the court if you need help because of a disability

Watch a hearing so you know what happens

If you’re feeling nervous about the hearing, you might want to go to one beforehand to get an idea of what happens. Ask your local county court when there’s one you can sit in on.

If you need extra help to go to your hearing

Let the court know if you need help to join your hearing. If you’re disabled or have a health condition, the court should make any reasonable adjustments you need.

For example, you should tell the court if you need a wheelchair ramp, a hearing loop or a BSL interpreter.

If you don’t speak English, the court might give you an interpreter. Check if you can get an interpreter on GOV.UK.

Going to the hearing

Make sure you and any witnesses are at court on time. The judge could delay or dismiss your claim and you might have to pay costs - like the other side’s expenses. If you’re running late, telephone the court to let them know.

Check you have all the original versions of your evidence with you in court.

Reread your claim form and witness statement (if you wrote one) to help you remember all the points you want to raise.

The judge will have been able to read the evidence beforehand and might use the hearing to examine the evidence further. They might ask you and the defendant to summarise your case and also ask you both questions. Or they could consider each point of disagreement and ask each of you about it in turn. Make notes of anything the defendant says which you think is wrong.

You might not have very long to present your evidence so make sure that you set out your case as clearly as you can.

Sometimes you and the defendant will have the chance to ask each other questions. It’s up to the judge to decide if you can do this. You might not find out until the day of the hearing, but it’s a good idea to think of any questions you’d like to ask the defendant in advance.

You can take a friend or relative with you for support. They’re allowed to sit with you and can take notes if you think that would help. They'll only be allowed to speak on your behalf if they’re with you in court and the judge has said they can.

Getting the court’s decision

The judge will give their decision or ‘judgment’ at the end of the hearing and briefly explain the reasons. If the case is decided without a hearing or one side doesn’t attend, the court will send a copy of the judge’s reasons to each side.

If you win, the judge will order the defendant to pay you. You could get:

  • some or all of what you claimed

  • interest if the judge awards you more than £5,000 - getting interest can depend on what the court order says and if the defendant pays you in time

  • expenses like court fees, reasonable travel expenses and up to £95 in lost wages for you or your witnesses

  • up to £750 if you had to pay for an expert

  • any fixed costs you put on the claim form

  • the costs of legal advice and preparing the case up to £260 if you got an order that the defendant must do something - like carry out repairs

If your claim isn’t just about money, the judge can order the defendant to do something - for example, fix a leaky tap.

If you lose you might have to pay some of the defendant’s costs - like travel and lost wages.

If the defendant won’t pay

You can ask the judge to make the defendant pay. This is called ‘enforcing the court order’. You’ll have to pay another fee to do this, but if you’re on a low income, you might get this reduced or not have to pay at all. Check if you can get help with court fees. Read about how to enforce a court order on GOV.UK.

If you disagree with the judge’s decision

You might be able to appeal - you’ll need to do this within 21 days of the court’s decision. You’ll also have to pay a fee unless you’re getting help with court fees.

You need to ask the court’s permission to appeal. 

The court will only consider your appeal if the judge made a legal mistake. They’ll refuse if they don’t think you have a good chance of succeeding.

If you’re allowed to appeal, the court will look at the decision the judge made in the first hearing. The appeal will be based on the same evidence you gave in the first hearing. You won’t usually be able to give new evidence.

Get legal advice if you want to appeal - it can be complicated and a legal adviser can tell you in if you have a good case. 

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Page last reviewed on 11 February 2020