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Using UK Small Claims Courts
What is a 'Small Claims Court' ?.
In the UK, we have a number of different Courts available for use depending on whether the matter in hand is civil or criminal. One of these is known by the name 'Small Claims Court'. This is not it's real name as there is actually no such thing.
The 'Small Claims Court' is, in fact, a division of the County Court which deals with financial claims up to a maximum of £10,000 and is correctly known as the 'County Court - Small Claims Track'.
Going to Court should always be used as a last resort rather than a 'first strike' method of obtaining settlement of outstanding monies.
Before resorting to Court action.
When you finally get to go before a Judge, they will have expected you to have taken all reasonable steps to resolve the problem before taking legal action.
For example, you purchase a fully-fitted kitchen & one of the units is fitted incorrectly. You would have been expected to have given the company you purchased from a reasonable time to rectify the issue (say, 1 month), or at least 2 attempts to fix the problem or replace the item.
Same with goods purchased, but not delivered. All attempts to arrange redelivery or refund should be made before Court action is considered.
Court is a powerful weapon that is to be used only as a last resort should all else fail. It is not for use as a tool to do the work you don't want to.
Taking Court action does involve various costs.
The first cost is the Initial Claim Fee. This ranges from £25 - £210 depending on the value of the claim.
The second is the Court Allocation Fee of £40. This pays purely for the paperwork involved in allocating the case to your nearest Court.
Finally, there is the Hearing fee (if you started proceedings via 'Moneyclaimonline').This varies between £25 - £325.
There may be other costs involved that you might need to include in the initial claim. These might include fees for expert witness statements & independent specialist reports.
Taking a claim to Court.
This can be done 2 ways. Firstly, you can start a claim online via MCOL. Or, you can approach your local County Court to obtain the relevant form to start your claim.
By using MCOL, you will need to have a means to pay online. By going direct through your local Court, you have the option of paying by cash or cheque. It is worth noting that a large majority of people use the MCOL service. To use MCOL, you will need to register with the Govt. Gateway but this does give you an account that you can also use to access other services such as HMRC Self Assessment Tax Payment. The advantage of MCOL is that you can track your case.
The forms are not as complex as you might first think. When starting my claim, i thought I would have pages of information to enter. However, the forms asked for my details (Claimant), those of the person/company I was claiming against (Defendant), total amount being claimed & finally, a short outline of what your case regards.
The bulk clearing centre ('Northampton County Court' for 'MCOL') will send you a print-out of your form submitted via MCOL for you to check through, sign and return, along with the £40 fee.
Once your case has been allocated to your local Court, you will receive a bundle from the Court confirming the date and setting-out the hearing fee payable to the Court to allow the case to go before the Judge.
If you fail to pay this fee on time, your case will be struck-off & you will lose all the fees paid so far and would have to start all over again.
You will also be given the date by which you need to submit your 'case bundle' to both the Court & the defendant/s (they must also submit their defense to the Court & yourself by this date as well). Your case bundle needs to include all the reports, statements and any costs. The Judge will frown upon any evidence being submitted on the day of the case, so make sure you get everything together and in date order as it will help your case considerably.
As some types of report cannot be submitted as evidence (i.e. an RAC vehicle inspection cannot be used as evidence in Court), it is your responsibility to make sure everything is in order.
I won, I won. Damn, I lost.
If you provide a robust case with all the facts (or the defendant/s fail to turn-up) and you win, you will get back not only the amount you claimed for, but all your Court fees on top. You cannot claim for your time spent gathering evidence or time lost from work.
If you lose, then the defendants can claim fees back from you. These are, however, limited. They can claim up to £90/day to cover their loss of earnings & up to £750 if the judge gave them permission to get evidence from an expert, eg, having to get an expert to inspect a vehicle for a fault.
The defendants cannot claim back legal fees, so even if they employ an expensive lawyer and they win, you will not be paying their lawyer's fees.