Many people use the term in passing, when trying to recover money.  It is understandable why people refer to the “small claims court”; the phrase seems to be a common one.  It is used in television shows, in newspaper articles and perhaps by the cavalier neighbour or work colleague.

What people may not know is that the term “small claims” actually refers to a ‘track’ on which any case can proceed, with the ‘track’ simply being a fancy term for deciding how the case is going to be managed.

When deciding the track, the court will look at a number of factors, such as the value of the claim and counterclaim (if any), whether there are any complex issues that may take some time to be heard at trial and whether any expert evidence will be needed to help the court decide the outcome.

Generally, for non-personal injury claims, the upper limit for a case to go onto the small claims track is £10,000.  Even if you wanted to take the biggest international company to court for money they owed you, and your claim was under this £10,000 limit, chances are that your case will be allocated to the small claims track by the court. 

Do I need a Lawyer to start my claim?

No, strictly speaking, you do not.

However, it is prudent to speak to a specialist litigator before starting a court case.  Not only can they help you to start your claim, but they will also be able to give a view on the strength of your case.  They can also give you an idea as to the usual risks of starting a claim and the potential risk to you in costs.

Can I recover my legal fees?

There is understandably a lot of confusion about this point amongst litigants in person.  This confusion is simply down to the fact that the answer is not a straightforward one.  Whilst the general principle is that you cannot recover your legal fees if the matter is on the small claims track, there are few important things for you to remember:-

1.         There are circumstances where a costs order can be made against you, even on the small claims track;

2.         There is no guarantee that your claim will be allocated to the small claims track, even if it is under the £10,000 limit.

3.         There is a period between you starting your claim and the court allocating your claim to the small claims track, where you are not covered by the small claims track “costs protection”.

If you are concerned about the costs risks connected to any claim you want to make, it is best that you consider seeking legal advice before issuing proceedings.

How much does it cost me to start my claim?

If you are the party starting a claim, or are bringing a counterclaim, then you will have to pay a fee to the court to start it off.  This fee depends on the amount that you are claiming and is updated from time to time by the court. 

To see how much you will have to pay you should search online for the court form called “EX50”.  Just make sure that the form you are looking at is up to date.

How do I start a claim?

The starting point is to issue a ‘claim form’ with the appropriate court and pay the appropriate fee.  This sets out who the parties are, how much you are claiming for and the reason why.

You will also have to set out your argument in greater detail in the section called ‘particulars of claim’, where you explain why you are legally entitled to the money that you are claiming.  Lawyers usually set out their argument on separate sheets of paper headed “Particulars of Claim”, which may be preferable for you as the space in the claim form is limited.

Your argument in the particulars of claim is very important, as it is the legal foundation upon which your claim will be based.  Understandably, the claim form and the particulars of claim is the area that I usually find my clients require some assistance with.

What happens next?

The court will write to you to explain the next steps of the case, and whether the matter is likely to be allocated to the small claims track.  You will also be told what to do and by when.  It is important that you comply with directions and any court order and carry out the requisite actions by the due dates.

Get in touch

If you are unsure as to where you stand in respect of any claim you are thinking of starting, please get in touch with our team to see whether we can help you.

This article sets out the very basics of a small claim, but it should not be used as a substitution for bespoke advice on your claim.  Great caution should be given to any claim before it is issued in court.

Daniel Jenkins, Solicitor, Abrahams Dresden LLP

Abrahams Dresden articles and guidance notes are for general information purposes only and generally state the law as at the date of publication.  The information may not be relied upon as legal advice.  We are of course always happy to advise directly on specific issues arising.