The small claims court is another name that is sometimes used to describe a certain type of legal procedure that takes place in County Courts across the UK. This means that the majority of small claims court cases will be those that have allocated to the small claims track, which limits the amount of legal advice and guidance from a solicitor that is needed.
The small claims court and the small claims track it specialises in have a specific set of more informal rules with regards to the way that the legal proceedings are carried out and the possible judgments that can be made.
Most cases in the small claims court will not require the loser (despite its relative informality, it is still an adversarial system) to pay the legal fees of the winner, or pay for their solicitor. In fact many small claims court cases will not require that solicitors be present at all, although this does not remove their use for case preparation and formal legal advice.
Legal aid can be sought by people who do not have the financial means to pay for the services of a solicitor, while people on benefits or low incomes can apply for exemptions or remissions from paying their small claims court fees.
There are only certain kinds of cases that can be placed on the small claims track at the County Court. The variables in this situation are the complexity and the financial value of the case.
The financial value of small claims court cases
To be placed in the small claims track the financial value of the County Court claim being presented must be less then £5,000. Cases involving personal injuries will be allocated to the small claims court if they do not exceed £1,000, while disputes between landlords and tenants are also only applicable if they the amount being disputed is less then £1,000.
There are rare exceptions where, even though the financial value of the case, both parties agree that they would like the proceeding to take place in the small claims court. While this could mean the dispute is settled more rapidly, it also means that the normal rules of the small claims track are thrown out the window, and each party becomes potentially liable for the others legal fees, including solicitors costs.
Common types of small claims court cases
- Compensation for flawed services and negligent professionals
- Consumer disputes over defective goods and breaches of contract
- Landlord and tenant disputes over missing rent or failure to repair the property
- Non-payment of wages or other debt related disputes
These are the kind of cases which can be dealt with in a quick manner, with potentially no need for legal representation from a solicitor, in an informal way. Other cases brought to the County Court will have to go through a much more formal process, generally requiring the legal expertise of a solicitor and potentially costing more in time and money.
Attempting to settle the dispute first
The best piece of legal advice that anyone can give about small claims court, County Courts and the whole court system itself, is that it is a tool that should only ever be utilised as a last resort. A person should always attempt to settle a dispute through communication and negotiation with the other party.
If someone owes individual money they should write them a letter formally expressing the amount owed and the circumstances under which it is owed. Similarly, if a toaster that was bought fails spectacularly to toast bread, the trader should be told of the problem and asked to provide a repair, replacement or refund.
The court process and the small claims court should only ever be used for disputes that cannot be settled through communication. In fact, the court will expect this, and will therefore look less favourably upon someone who has jumped straight into litigation.
Time limits on small claims court cases
There are strict time limits placed upon when a claim can be brought to the County Court. These differ depending on the type of dispute so if litigation is being considered as a serious option, the legal advice of a professional solicitor should be sought as soon as possible. Filling out on the form on the right hand side of this page will be a good start.