Making a small claim
How To Make A Small Claim
In order to begin making a small claim, the first step would be to write a formal letter to the person or the business with which you have a disagreement with.
This person or business is known as ‘the defendant’, and the letter is called a ‘letter before claim’ or ‘letter before action.’
Even if you have already written to them to complain, this is a step that must be taken. In the event that this doesn’t solve the dispute, a small claim can be started by filling in a form.
Write a letter before claim
It is important to write ‘Letter before claim’ at the start of the letter to indicate that this is a formal letter.
The letter should include:
- your name and address
- a summary of what has happened
- what you want the person or business to do about it
- how much money you want – like the cost of repair or a replacement – and how you’ve calculated that amount
a deadline for reply – usually 14 days
- that you’ll start court proceedings if you don’t get a reply
The letter should also say that you and the defendant should follow the court’s rules regarding what to do next. With this in mind, it’s a very good idea to take note of the court rules.
You should write: ‘I refer you to the Practice Direction on pre-action conduct under the Civil Procedure Rules, and in particular to paragraphs 13-16 which set out the sanctions the court may impose if you fail to comply with the Practice Direction.’
Should you not have already tried alternative dispute resolution, then you should say that you are willing to try it.
Always keep a copy of the letter and make sure to ask the Post Office to supply proof of postage as you may need evidence as to when you sent the letter.
The defendant has 14 days to reply to the claim, but this could take up to 90 days if the matter is particularly complicated.
In the event that they disagree with the claim, they should say:
- the reasons why and which facts they don’t agree with
- if they’re making a claim of their own (a ‘counterclaim’)
If the other person or business does decide to make a counterclaim, make sure to check the facts that they’re relying on and to make careful notes of anything you disagree on.
You should also try to find evidence which proves that they’re wrong. An example would be if you told you landlord about repairs but they ignored you and claim that you damaged your home. In this case you should find proof of where and how you told them.
Filling in the claim form
If you don’t receive a reply or if you aren’t satisfied with the reply you do get, you can begin to make your small claim by downloading and filling in the N1 claim form; There are notes available to help you fill in the form.
If you know the exact amount of how much you want to claim, you can do it online. This is the cheapest option available.
You are unable to make an online claim if you’re on a low income and qualify for reduced fees. You are able to check if you can get lower fees on GOV.UK.
Making a claim online
You can use the Money Claims service if:
- you’re claiming less than £10,000
- you’re over 18 or your claim is against someone who’s over 18
- you live in the UK
- you’re not making a claim under the Consumer Credit Act 1974
- you’re not making a claim for personal injury
- you’re not making a claim for a tenancy deposit
- you don’t need help with court fees
In order to use Money Claims, you need to know exactly how much you’re claiming, the reason why it is owed, what happened in what order and on what date, as well as whether or not you want to claim interest.
Money Claims is a registered part of the HM Courts and Tribunals Service.
If you need help with Money Claims
To contact Money Claims, you will need your case or claim number. They aren’t able to provide legal advice.
If you can’t use Money Claims
You may try using Money Claim Online (MCOL).
If you are under the age of 18 or are making a claim against someone who is under the age of 18, you need to use the paper N1 form.
If you’re under 18 and making the claim yourself, you should write ‘(a child)’ after your name. If it is someone else making the claim on behalf of a person under the age of 18, they should write ‘(a child by [name of person making the claim] their litigation friend)’.
If you need help with the N1 Claim Form
You should contact the County Court Money Claims Centre, making sure to give your case reference number. They are unable to provide legal advice.
Calls usually cost up to 40p a minute from mobiles and up to 10p a minute from landlines. It should be free from your mobile if you have a contract that includes calls to landlines – check with your supplier if you’re not sure.
Working out how much to claim on the N1 form or MCOL
You need to include the amount that you are claiming and write it in the ‘value’ section on the form.
If you are claiming a specific amount such as what you had to pay to replace a faulty product, then you should list that amount. This is called a fixed or specified amount.
Should you not know the exact amount of the claim, you should write ‘I cannot say how much I expect to recover’. This is called an ‘unspecified amount’.
You are also able to claim for the fixed costs of a solicitor filling in the form and then sending it on to the court for you, however you aren’t able to claim for any other legal costs.
You need to include a claim for interest in the ‘value’ section and you are able to check how to calculate interest on GOV.UK. The following wording should be used to claim interest: ‘The claimant claims interest under Section 69 of the County Courts Act 1984 at the rate of 8 per cent a year.’
You must make sure to sign the form and if you’re completing the form online, make sure to type your name accurately into the ‘signature’ box.
Dealing with the defendant’s response
The court will send a copy of the claim form on to the defendant. In the event that you have made your claim on a paper form or indeed through MCOL, the defendant must inform you that they have received your claim within a period of 14 days, either by sending a reply or a form called an ‘acknowledgement of service’.
Should they send you an acknowledgement of service, they then have up to 28 days to send you a reply. The 28 days start from the time and date on which they receive details of the claim.
If the claim was made via Money Claims, the defendant has 19 days. If they require a longer period of time, they need to tell the court, with the most they can have being 33 days.
The defendant doesn’t reply
The court can decide that you have won the claim if the defendant doesn’t reply. Ask the court for ‘judgement by default’ in these cases. This can be asked for by:
- requesting a judgment on Money Claim Online if you made your claim online
- filling in form N225 if you claimed a fixed (‘specified’) amount
- filling in form N227 if you claimed an ‘unspecified’ amount
If you used Money Claims, a request for judgement by default can also be made if the defendant hasn’t replied by the time the deadline for their reply has passed.
The defendant agrees with some or all of your claim
The defendant may offer to pay you all or some of the money that has been asked for. The court will send the claimant a copy of the defendant’s offer and form N225A. The claimant should fill this form in to indicate whether or not they accept the offer. This should be returned to the court by the date on the form.
The defendant disagrees with your claim
This is known as ‘defending the claim’. In this instance, the defendant must explain the reasons why they disagree with the claim in a document called their ‘defence’. This must be sent to the court within 14 days of receiving the claim, or within 27 days if they sent an acknowledgement of service The court will send the claimant a copy.
The court will also send a form to help them decide when the hearing should be. This is known as a ‘directions questionnaire’ and should be used to let the court know about dates when you are unavailable, such as if you are away on holiday or have a scheduled medical appointment. This form must be sent back on time.
The claimant can also indicate if they want the hearing to take place at a specific county court, for example on the grounds that a witness has a disability and cannot travel far. Find your nearest County court. Normally, the court used will be the nearest to the defendant, but the judge may move it if there is a good enough reason to do so.
There may not be a hearing if the claimant and the defendant agree that the court can decide the claim without one. If this happens, the judge will make their decision based on the claim and the defendant’s defence, with neither part having to go to court in person to give further evidence.
Using small claims mediation
The court will always ask if its free mediation service is needed to try and resolve the dispute. A mediator will try to resolve the dispute by helping the claimant and the defendant reach an agreement. They will do so by remaining impartial. This process may be done over the phone.
If you wish to use this service, this should be indication on the directions questionnaire.
Mediation can save time and money, which makes it at least something to try. If the claimant and the defendant agree, neither party will have to attend a hearing and there will be no hearing fee payable.
If an agreement can’t be reached through mediation, the court hearing can still go ahead.
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