Small claims - overview
Cases are usually allocated to the small claims track if they're worth £10,000 or less. If it's a personal injury claim or you're tenant claiming against landlord for repairs, the cut off is £1,000.
The most common types of claim in the small claims track are:
- compensation for faulty services, eg by builders, dry cleaners or garages
- compensation for faulty goods, eg televisions or washing machines
- disputes between landlords and tenants, eg rent arrears or compensation for not doing repairs
- wages owed or money in lieu of notice
Some cases worth more than £10,000 are allocated to the small claims track. If the claimant loses the case, they may have to pay the defendant’s solicitor’s costs - and vice versa.
If a case is complex, the judge may refer it to another track for a full hearing - even if it's below the financial limit of that track.
Get specialist help
Contact your nearest Citizens Advice for free advice before you make a claim - some branches have specialists who help out with small claims cases. You could also ask a friend or someone else to help you (known as a ‘lay representative’).
You'll usually have to pay if you instruct a solicitor even if you win your case, so most people don't use solicitors.
If your case has been allocated to a different track, contact your nearest Citizens Advice.
If you're going to take court action, you must do this within certain time limits. The time limit depends on what action you're taking - eg the time limit for breach of contract is 6 years. Contact your nearest Citizens Advice to find out more about time limits.
Before you go to court
You must try and settle a claim before taking court action. If you don't try to settle first, the court may penalise you.
If you've got an issue about faulty goods, you must try to resolve the situation yourself first. For example if your TV's stopped working, contact the shop first in writing. Say you'll giving them a reasonable time to reply (eg a month), and that you'll take court action if they don't reply by then.
You could also try mediation, if the other party agrees - a third party will try to help both parties agree on a solution. There's usually a fee for this.
The court may suggest a mediator if you haven't already tried it.
If you're disabled, you should check the court's facilities online. If you can't get into the court because of your disability, the case may be transferred to a more suitable court.
Fill in a claim form
Download and fill in claim form (N1). You'll need to include:
- your details
- the defendant's details
- how much the claim's worth
- the 'particulars of claim' - you can use extra paper if there isn't enough space to set out your claim (you can send this bit up to 14 days after you send the claim form)
- additional documents (if you have any), eg an agreement to purchase goods or services if that's what the claim is based on
You may be able to claim interest on your claim - include it in the amount you're claiming on the claim form. You'll need a specific form of wording to do this - see the claim form notes for more information.
You may be able to claim online if you're claiming a fixed amount of money. Usually, claims will be issued, printed and sent to the defendant on the day the claim is submitted. You'll have to pay court fees by credit or debit card.
Send the claim form
You must send 2 copies of the claim form to the court where you want to start court action. You can also take them to the court in person. Make sure you keep a copy for your own records.
Money claims must be issued at the County Court Money Claims Centre. Other cases can be issued in the local county court.
The court will stamp the claim form and in most cases, serve it on the defendant. You'll get a 'notice of issue' - a document with the case number on it.
How the claim form is served
The court will usually send (or 'serve') the form 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.
If you want to serve the form yourself, you can ask the court to give it back to you once it's been stamped.
What happens next
If the defendant accepts that they owe the money claimed, they won't be defending the case - and the court won't allocate it to the small claims track.
If they can pay the money immediately, they should send it to the claimant directly.
If they need time to pay, they can suggest an arrangement by sending a form ('judgement on admission) - for example:
- payment in instalments
- payment in a lump sum on an agreed date
If you don't accept the defendant's offer, you tell the court why. Write a letter, and send a copy to the defendant.
A court official will decide what a reasonable arrangement should be, and will will send both parties an order for payment (a ‘judgment for claimant after determination’)
If the defendant decides to defend the case
The defendant will defend the case if they don't accept that they're in the wrong. They must respond within either:
- 14 days from the second day after the court post them the claim form and particulars of claim
- 14 days from the second day after the court post them the particulars of claim (if they were served separately)
If the defendant needs more time to prepare a defence, they 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).
If the defendant doesn't respond, the claimant can ask for an order to be made against them.
After the court gets the defendant's defence, they'll send a directions questionnaire to both parties with a deadline. You'll have to pay a fee when you send it back, unless it's been waived. The court will then decide which track to allocate the case to.
If both parties indicate on their directions questionnaires that they would consider mediation, the court can offer free telephone-based mediation service.
The notice of allocation and directions
If the court allocates the case to the small claims track, both parties will be sent a form called a 'notice of allocation'. The form says what you'll have to do to prepare for the final hearing (also known as 'directions').
You might be told to send copies of documents you'll be using at the hearing to the court in and the other party at least 14 days before the hearing. 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 common directions for certain cases, eg if you want to show a video as evidence you'll have to contact the court so they can make arrangements in advance.
The hearing date
Your hearing date will be on your notice of allocation, along with where it'll take place and how long you should expect it to last.
If you can't make the date and you want to go, write to the court and tell them why. You'll have to pay to do this, and the court will only agree if you have good reasons.
You don't have to go to the hearing, eg if it'll cost you more to get to the court than the cost of what you're claiming. If you don't go, you can ask the court to deal with the claim in your absence. You must write to the court at least 7 days before the hearing date, and send a copy of the letter to the defendant.
If there's no hearing date on your notice of allocation, it could be because the court wants to:
- deal with the claim on the papers alone - if neither party objects, the court will come to a decision without a hearing
- hold a preliminary hearing - for example if the claim requires special directions, or the judge thinks one party doesn't stand a chance of succeeding (and so wants to save everyone time and money)
Prepare your case
It's important to prepare your case carefully - the court has to be convinced. If you're not confident, you should consider taking someone else along to help - and getting specialist advice first.
It's important to:
- get an expert report if you think it'd help, eg with faulty goods (you'll need permission from the court first)
- set out your notes in date order, carefully explaining which documents you're using as evidence and what they prove
- list all of your documents to make sure you don't forget anything
- take along anything that you're using as evidence, eg clothes ruined by a washing machine - take photos if you don't have them to hand
- evidence of expenses, along with receipts
- all letters and other forms of communication about the case - print out any emails
The court must agree if either party wants to call on a witness. They can issue a 'witness summons' if the witness is struggling to get time off work - contact the court if you need help with this.
What happens at the hearing
The final hearing is usually held in public, but it could be held in private if both parties agree, or the court thinks it's necessary in the interests of justice.
Hearings in the small track are informal. The judge will decide:
- who to ask questions to first
- how much time both parties and the witnesses have to give evidence
If English isn't your first language, you can ask the court for an interpreter or contact your local Citizens Advice - an adviser might be able to help you find one.
At the end of the hearing, the judge will give the judgment - including their reasons why. They'll talk through the reasons as simply and quickly as possible, usually in person at the hearing. Sometimes you won't get them on the day - so you might get them in writing through the post, or at a later hearing.
If you win your case, you'll get the court fees back as well as the claim - and you can ask for other expenses too. If you lose, you won't get the court fees back - but you won't usually have to pay any other costs.
If you want to make an appeal
You can only appeal if:
- the court made a mistake in law
- there was a serious irregularity in the proceedings
You'll have 21 days from the date of the decision to make an appeal, unless the court has given a different time limit. You'll have to pay a fee, unless you're on a low income. There'll be more information on your decision letter.
Contact your nearest Citizens Advice for help - it's easier than doing it on your own.
If the defendant ignores the court order
You'll have to go back to court to apply to an order to get the money - also known as 'enforcing the judgement'. You'll have to pay a fee for this.
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.