If you are owed money by a person or a business, you may seek to obtain that money through the small claims court.
Strict limits apply to the amount you can recover in the small claims court.
In England and Wales, the total you can claim is £10,000. In Scotland, the total is lower, at £5,000. The total you can claim in Northern Ireland is £3,000.
However, for personal injury claims or where you are making a claim against your landlord for housing disrepair, the maximum you can claim is £1,000.
How to make a claim
To make a claim through the small claims court, you should use the HM Courts and Tribunals Service online courts claim system, unless your claim is for an unspecified amount of money, in which case you should use a paper claim form N1.
Along with your claim form, whether online or in paper form, you must pay a court fee. The amount you pay depends on how much you are claiming for, plus any interest accrued. The fee for making an online application is cheaper than for the paper form.
Where you don’t know how much you are claiming for, you must use the paper form and make an estimate of the claim amount, basing your court fee on that amount.
Claiming back interest
You can claim interest on any money owed to you and include that interest in your claim amount.
Generally, the percentage you should charge is 8%, although if you are charging interest for late payment by another business, you would charge 8% plus the Bank of England base rate for business to business transactions.
You will be asked whether you are willing to take the matter to mediation, rather than commencing a small claims court case. This could occur when you initially make your claim or should the defendant file a defence and a court hearing become likely.
Entering into mediation isn’t mandatory, but it can settle the dispute without the stress and worry of going to court.
Any mediation official will be completely neutral.
What happens next?
The defendant (the person or business who owes you money) must be given a chance to reply to your claim. You will receive a letter informing you of the date by which the defendant must reply.
There are 3 likely outcomes at this stage.
Resolution and payment
The defendant may accept your claim and pay you the amount owed.
Confirm to the defendant that you have received their payment then update your claim:
- where the claim was made online, either send an email to the Money Claims service or use the Money Claim online service
- where the claim was made on a paper form, contact the relevant court
Defendant files a defence
The defendant may file a defence, explaining why they are disputing your claim.
In this situation, the court will send out a notice of proposed allocation and a Directions questionnaire to both you and the defendant.
You must complete the questionnaire and return it to the court with an extra court fee and any relevant supporting documents.
It is likely that any evidentiary material you and the defendant have supplied will be made available to the other party 14 days before the date of your court hearing for the purpose of settling out of court.
No reply is received
If the defendant doesn’t reply to your claim, you may ask the court to order the defendant to pay, using the relevant request for judgement form:
- N225 for a specified claim amount
- N227 for an unspecified claim amount
Going to court
Should the defendant refuse to pay the money owed, disagree with the amount or dispute your claim in any other way, your case may go to court.
Should your case go to court, you may represent yourself, instruct a solicitor or barrister, or ask someone else to advise you in court and speak for you.
The hearing may be heard in a courtroom or the judge’s room at a county court.
The judge will hear both sides, examine any evidentiary material, and make a decision.
The judge may decide that the full amount should be paid, a lesser amount, alter the conditions of the debt, or rule in the defendant’s favour.
If the decision is in your favour, the judge will inform both parties how long the defendant has to pay. Payment is generally required within one month.
The amount that the defendant has to pay may not only be the claim amount. In addition to this, the judge may order the defendant to pay your court fees, travelling expenses, overnight accommodation expenses, if relevant, and loss of earnings expenses up to £90, if relevant.
You may also ask for expenses to paid to any witnesses you called, should that be relevant.
The exception to this is in Northern Ireland where you may only ask for your court fee to be paid by the defendant.
Should the judge rule against you, you may be asked to pay the defendants costs.
You have the right to appeal against the judge’s decision within 21 days, and for your court case to be heard again before a higher court.
Should the judge order the defendant to pay the money owed but payment is not made to you, you have several courses of action.
You may ask the court to collect payment from the defendant on your behalf. Such a request will, however, incur an additional court fee.
You may ask the court to order the defendant to provide evidence of their financial situation in court. Where the defendant is a business, a representative of the business (officer from the company) should attend. You may then decide whether you wish the court to take further action to collect the claim amount.
You may ask the court to send bailiffs to collect the money owed. In this situation, the defendant will be given 7 days to pay, after which time if payment hasn’t been made, the bailiff will visit the defendant’s home or business premises to identify any items that can be sold to pay off the money owed.
Where your claim amount is between £600 and £5,000, you should make this request to the High Court.
To make any of the above requests, use form N323 for a county court or form N293A for a High Court. If you made your initial claim online, you may also use the Money Claim online system to enforce a judgement.
Where the defendant is an employed individual, you may ask the court to take money from their wages to pay the money owned. This would involve an order being sent to the defendant’s employer. Use form N337 attachment of earnings order.
You may also request that the court freeze money in the defendant’s bank account and make a decision on whether the money in the account may be used to pay the amount owed. Use form N349 third party debt order.
Finally, you may ask the court to charge the defendant’s property or land. What this means is that if that property or land is sold, the defendant must pay the attached charge before they receive any money from the sale. Use form N379 charging order.
How legal advice can help
Making a claim for money you are owed through the small claims court can be a complicated and lengthy process.
Take specialist legal advice to ensure you have a solid case with all the supporting evidence you require so that the money owed to you can be paid as soon as possible.