Step six: How the court decides what to do with the case
All the paperwork about the case is given to a judge who will decide what to do next. At this stage the judge can:
- throw out the claim, if it has no chance of success
- decide you've won your case without any further information or a hearing taking place
- arrange for the case to be heard in court.
If the judge isn’t sure about the facts, they can call a meeting, called a preliminary hearing, to help decide what to do next.
This page tells you more about the judge's decision and the paperwork you should get from the court.
Action to take if you're going to court
You'll get a Notice of Allocation telling you when and where your case will be heard and what to do next
Send the court and the other side any evidence you will be using in court, at least 14 days before the hearing
You'll get notice of the preliminary hearing. It's important to attend. If you don't, the judge may throw the case out and you won't be able to re-start it.
The judge may look at whether alternative dispute resolution, such as mediation, could settle the dispute out of court.
At the end of the preliminary hearing, the judge will decide whether the case should go ahead.
If the judge decides there needs to be a court hearing, they will allocate the case to one of three court tracks, depending on the amount of money you’re claiming and how straightforward the case is. Usually claims will be put into the following tracks:
- claims up to £10,000 are dealt with in the small claims track. But the judge can decide to put small claims in another track if the case is complicated cases and likely to take more than a day to sort out
- claims between £10,000 and £25,000 are dealt with in the fast track.
- claims over £25,000 are dealt with in the multi track.
Straightforward claims for more than £10,000 can be heard in the small claims track if the court agrees. But you must ask for this on the directions questionnaire.
Notice of Allocation
When the court has fixed a court hearing, you should get a formal Notice of Allocation at least 14 days before the hearing date. The notice tells you :
- which track your case will be heard in – small claims, fast or multi track
- the time, date and place of the hearing
- instructions about the documents that will be used - you have to tell the court and the other side about any evidence that you will be using including witnesses, at least 14 days before the hearing
- your duty to tell the court if you and the trader settle your case before the hearing date
- any special instructions, for example if the hearing will be away from court to allow for an inspection of premises
- that the court wants to deal with the claim without a hearing. If this is the case, you and the trader will be asked to confirm that you agree to this.
Fixing the hearing date
You may have to wait some months after you've sent in your claim for a hearing date. Once the court has decided, you and the trader will be given at least 21 days’ notice of the date and time of the hearing.
When you get the hearing date, you will also be told how long the judge thinks the case needs to be heard. This includes the total amount of time for you, the trader and any witnesses to put forward their case.
It also includes time for the judge to ask questions, reach a decision and explain the reasons for making it. It’s important you attend the hearing date. If you can’t make it, you can ask for it to be changed.
Can you change the hearing date?
If you or the trader has a good reason why you can't go to court on the date that's been set, you can ask for it to be changed. Use court form N244 to ask the judge for another date. You have to pay a fee but you may be able to get it reduced or waived if you’re on a low income.