Small claims court

Compared to consumers, businesses are generally more accustomed to pursuing claims when they have suffered financial loss. But consumers who are potentially owed money by a company can take advantage of enhanced rights which level the playing field.

In what situations can a consumer make a claim?

The main types of consumer claim involve:

  • Faulty services - compensation may be sought if services have been carried out to an insufficient standard (eg a garage has not properly serviced a car) or if damage has been caused in the course of a service (eg builders have damaged a property during renovation)
  • Faulty goods - compensation may be claimed where goods are not of satisfactory quality and fit for purpose, or if they cause injury as a result of a fault

The Consumer Rights Act also tightened up consumer rights relating to disputes between landlords and tenants, specifically in regard to any unfair terms included in tenancy agreements.

What to consider before making a claim

Consumers should generally first attempt to resolve issues by raising a complaint with the company. It will often be in the best interests of the business to provide redress (including compensation if appropriate) rather than face court action. If this does not work, it may be worth contacting any regulatory body (eg Trading Standards) or an ombudsman (eg the Consumer Ombudsman) before going to the small claims court.

How is a small claim made?

Claims can be made online using the government’s Money Claim Online service. The claim must be for a fixed amount less than £100,000; the claim must be against no more than two people or organisations; and the claim must be made against someone with an address in England or Wales.

Alternatively, or for claims without an unspecified amount, consumers can go to the small claims court. Form N1 needs to be completed and sent to the County Court Money Claims Centre, PO Box 527, Salford, M5 0BY.

In either case, court fees must also be paid - see GOV.UK for the full range of up to date fees.

What is the process after making a claim?

Claims must receive a response from the person or business owing money (defendant) within 14 days of receipt. There are then three possibilities:

  1. Satisfactory payment is received - this should be acknowledged and the court updated
  2. No response - if the defendant does not respond, a further request can be made for the court to order payment (see GOV.UK for the relevant forms)
  3. Unsatisfactory response - if the defendant refuses to pay or disagrees with the amount, the claim may need to proceed to a court hearing. In this case an extra court fee will be required. For claims under £10,000, the court will offer their small claims mediation service

How does the hearing proceed?

Relatively straightforward cases sometimes do not require attendance and consumers can request that the court deals with their claim in their absence. Otherwise, both sides should turn up at court to set out their arguments on the day of the hearing. Consumers can represent themselves, pay a lawyer to represent them, ask for someone else (not necessarily a lawyer) to advise them in court or speak on their behalf (the latter may require permission from the court).

The court will generally make a decision on the day of the hearing and order the defendant to pay any relevant money owing. The decision can be appealed within 21 days.

How is a judgment enforced?

If a defendant does not comply with a court order for payment relating to a small claim, there are various options available for enforcing the judgment:

  • finding out what the debtor can afford
  • sending bailiffs
  • deducting money from wages
  • freezing assets or money in an account
  • charging land or property

To find out more about these options, including relevant fees, see GOV.UK.