What does the small claims court do?
The small claims court offers any person who is owed money the opportunity to have their case heard by a judge. In the small claims court, the claimant can ask a judge to order the person that owes them money to pay – otherwise known as issuing judgment against them.
The court process is much simpler that in other civil courts and the costs tend to be lower. The small claims court will usually only hear cases which are for claims of less than £10,000 and where the facts in the case are relatively straightforward, usually where payment has not been made as promised under an agreement.
You can make a claim in the small claims court in relation to the provision of goods or services. But if your claim is against a company, you should first make sure you have exhausted the company’s complaints process and followed any industry specific guidance. For example, where there is an industry ombudsman for referring complaints to, you should use them before taking a complaint to the court.
The court will not look kindly on a claim which the claimant has not tried to resolve through other channels first, and your claim may even be dismissed. The small claims court should be used as a last resort when all other options have not worked.
Examples of industry specific ombudsman services include the Financial Ombudsman Service, the Legal Ombudsman, the Energy Ombudsman and the Deposit Protection Scheme (for rental tenancy disputes). These independent services were established to support the judicial system and keep minor complaints from occupying court time. You should use them if you can.
Does it cost to go to small claims court?
There are a number of costs to consider if you are thinking about issuing a claim in the small claims court. If you plan to defend a small claims court case there may also be costs involved, but the claimant will pay all of the court fees.
If you are on a low income or in receipt of certain benefits, you may be able to get help with some of the costs of issuing a small claims court claim. In reality, there is very little assistance available to most people though. If you are planning to make a claim against someone who owes you money, it would be sensible to know what the costs will be and make sure that you can pay these.
The courts have an online system for administering money claims. If you use this service then the court fees are lower.
The first fee will be the issue fee, and must be paid when you first issue the claim. The fee depends on the value of your claim.
At the moment, these fees are as follows (for online filing only):
- Claim of less than £300: £25
- Claim between £300 and £500: £35
- Claim between £500 and £1,000: £60
- Claim between £1,000 and £1,500: £70
- Claim between £1,500 and £3,000: £105
- Claim between £3,000 and £5,000: £185
- Claim between £5,000 and £10,000: £410
- Claim of more than £10,000: 4.5% of the value of the claim (note that most claims of more than £10,000 will not be heard in the small claims court)
You will then need to pay a hearing fee if the defendant does not admit the claim and the court decides a hearing is needed. If you reach an agreement out of court then the proceedings can be stopped (or ‘discontinued’) at any time and no further fees will be due.
Like the issue fee, the hearing fee also depends on the value of your claim and is only paid by the claimant. When the hearing date is set, the court will tell you when you need to pay the hearing fee by. If the fee is not received in time then the case will be dismissed without notice and you will not be able to continue with the claim.
Hearing fees in the small claims court are as follows:
- Claim of less than £300: £25
- Claim between £300 and £500: £55
- Claim between £500 and £1,000: £80
- Claim between £1,000 and £1,500: £115
- Claim between £1,500 and £3,000: £70
- Claim of more than £3,000: £335
You can find more information about court fees on HMCTS website here.
You should also think carefully about whether you will need legal representation. It would be a good idea to take some legal advice, even if the value of your claim is very low, and you should plan for some legal costs. You can find out more about small claims court lawyers and what they’re likely to cost here [link to our article].