Going to a small claims hearing
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 one. 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.
Prepare for the hearing
The court will send you the date of the hearing and instructions on what you need to do. 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 can get 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'. You'll be asked to send copies of documents to the defendant and might be 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.
Make sure you follow the directions or you might have to pay extra. For example, if you don’t provide copies of documents you might have to pay the court cost of photocopying them.
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.
Get ready for going to court
You should also:
- 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.
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 read all the evidence beforehand. 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.
You can take a friend or relative with you for support. They’ll sit with you and can take notes if you think that would help.
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 from the date of the court order until the defendant pays you if the judge awards you more than £5,000
- 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 you lose you might have to pay 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 can ask the court for permission to appeal. You usually only have 21 days from the date of the judge's decision to make an appeal. You’ll have to pay a fee of £120 for this unless you can get help with court fees. You can only appeal in very limited circumstances so it’s best to get advice from a solicitor.