If you are in dispute with an organisation or an individual and wish to recover specific sums of money you feel you should not have paid, then you can issue a claim at county court level against that individual or firm. If the claim is for less than £5000 (or £1,000 or less if the claim is for personal injury or housing disrepair) then the small claims system is set up for you to use cheaply, quickly and easily, without the involvement of lawyers or other legal professionals. For claims over £5000, you will be referred to the fast track or multi-track. Please note, this only applies to England and Wales.
Alternatives to court action
The procedure will require you to consider alternative dispute resolution routes such as arbitration, mediation and ombudsmen schemes (details for which can be found in the useful contacts page on this site). However, if it is clear that you will not get the desired result any other way, then you can pursue a claim issued through the county court. You can do this for any of the following scenarios:
- An unpaid debt
- Poor workmanship
- Non-performance of contractual obligations
- Damage to property
- Road traffic accidents;
- Personal injury
- Faulty goods or goods not supplied
Your application will include information on what steps you have already taken to try and recover the money. You would therefore be advised to write to them as a first step, explaining the reasons for your dissatisfaction, what you would like in return and a reasonable timeframe for doing this. You should also provide notice of your intention to take further action if they do not do as instructed. See our templates page for a model of how to structure your letter and what kind of information to include. Remember to send any correspondence recorded delivery and keep copies for inclusion in your claim.
Things to consider
You should also consider the capacity of the firm or individual to pay the sum. If they are unemployed, insolvent, on a low income or heavily in debt, this will be taken into account and you may not get anything. Therefore it is very possible that even though you will win your claim you will still not get any of the money which is owing to you.
How much will it cost?
To start proceedings, claimants must usually pay an initial court fee, and although it will not be as much as instructing a solicitor, the amount will depend on how much money you are claiming. If you are receiving benefits, pension or tax credits, or if your income is below a certain level, you will not have to pay this court fee. You can also get a partial contribution to the fees if you can prove that it would be difficult for you to pay.
If, once judgement has been made the company or individual still does not pay and continues to dispute your claim, you may have to pay additional fees, although these can often be added onto the amount they will eventually owe you if you are successful.
- If you have witnesses you will have to cover their expenses / loss of earnings
- If you need a report from a professional acting as an expert witness, you will have to pay for this
- If you require a professional to attend the hearing to give their expert opinion, you will need to pay their charges and expenses
- If you are suing for a specific sum of money, the case may well be heard in the court local to the firm or individual you are suing, therefore you will incur travel costs and suffer loss of earnings.
However, you may be able to claim some or all of these costs back if your claim is successful.
For claims less than £5000 the system is set up for you to represent yourself. You would be advised to seek advice from a solicitor at the outset to get an understanding of legal aspects such as providing evidence, as well as court processes and putting realistic figure on how much to claim. However, they don’t need to be involved in the process itself, which will save you money. If you will have difficulty representing yourself you will also be allowed to take a friend, family member or colleague with you as a ‘lay representative’.
There are firms which can offer a claims management service on a ‘no win no fee’ basis for things like personal injury, accident claims, housing disrepair or recovery of bank charges. You must check these firms are authorised before you instruct them, as they will be acting unlawfully if they are not.
For claims which are less than £10,000 and against not more than two people, you will be able to file a claim online. Go to: www.moneyclaim.gov.uk
For more information and forms to download, go to: www.hmcourts-service.gov.uk