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Small Claim Court Procedure And Comprehensive Guide

Navigating the small claims court procedure can be daunting, but with the right knowledge, you can confidently pursue your case. Here’s a brief guide to help you understand the procedure. Our guide to dealing with a small claim, designed for claims up to £10,000, aims to assist you in understanding the court process and minimize legal expenses. If you find yourself in a dispute with a former friend, client, or retailer, it’s always beneficial to resolve the issue before resorting to legal proceedings. Hearing process.

Preparation is Key

Before initiating a court claim, consider whether the other party can fulfill the payment. Assess their financial standing and, if needed, conduct a search for court judgments against them. Utilize resources like the Register of County Court Judgments (accessible online or by writing to Registry Trust Limited).

Initiating a Claim

You can start a claim in the county court for various reasons, such as unpaid debts, property damage, faulty goods, or poor workmanship. If you decide to proceed, consider online platforms like www.moneyclaim.gov.uk or the Online Civil Money Claims pilot for cases up to £10,000. Keep copies of all correspondence and court documents for reference. Book vehicle inspection.

Understanding Small Claims

A small claim involves amounts up to £10,000, excluding interest or costs, with some exceptions for specific cases. Seek advice from local Law Centres or Citizens Advice for assistance, as the small claims process is designed for self-representation.

Our guide to handling a small claim is designed to assist you through the process and mitigate the risk of incurring significant legal fees on a small claim.

In the midst of a dispute, whether with a former friend, client, or retailer, seeking resolution before resorting to the courts is always preferable. Initiate communication with the other party, requesting payment or a desired resolution within a specified timeframe, coupled with a warning of potential court action if no cooperation is observed. If this initial step proves ineffective, and you find yourself needing to make a claim or if a claim is brought against you, understanding the court process becomes paramount, albeit potentially confusing.

This guide focuses on ‘small claims’—those amounting to £10,000 or less—to ease your journey through the court process and help you minimize or avoid legal fees. It’s essential to note that this guide does not substitute for legal or professional advice. Seek legal counsel for guidance tailored to your specific circumstances.

Potential reasons for initiating a county court claim include someone owing you money, damaging your property, supplying faulty goods, or providing substandard workmanship. Throughout this guide, we’ll use the example of an unpaid used car worth £3,000, offering sample court documents where relevant.

Before investing in a court claim, involving fees and potential witness or expert expenses, assess whether the other party is financially capable of meeting their obligations. If there’s doubt about their financial standing, consider bankruptcy or insolvency searches (for a small fee). You can also check if the person you’re claiming from has unpaid court judgments through the Register of County Court Judgments, accessible online at www.trustonline.org.uk or by contacting Registry Trust Limited in writing.

Obtain copies of court forms from your local county court or the Court Service website, which provides helpful guidance leaflets for all claim stages (www.justice.gov.uk, click on ‘Courts,’ then ‘Find a court form’ on the right-hand side).

For claims involving a specified sum of money, consider making an online claim at www.moneyclaim.gov.uk, following the on-screen instructions for progression. Alternatively, explore the Online Civil Money Claims pilot scheme for cases worth up to £10,000, especially if both parties prefer self-representation and eschew legal assistance. The scheme has its own forms and procedures, with specific eligibility criteria available at https://www.gov.uk/make-money-claim.

While utilizing these services, this guide remains a valuable companion, offering an overview of the legal process. Keep meticulous records of all correspondences and court documents for reference. Efficient preparation and understanding the process enhance your ability to navigate the small claims terrain successfully.

Filing a Claim

Completing a Claim Form (Form N1) is the initial step. Specify the desired outcome and pay the required court fee based on the claim size. Ensure accuracy in completing forms and provide necessary supporting documents.

UP TO £300£35
£300.01 TO £500£50
£500.01 TO £1,000£70
£1,000.01 TO £1,500£80
£1,500.01 TO £3,000£115
£3,000.01 TO £5,000£205
£5,000.01 TO £10,000£455
£10,000.01 TO £200,0005% of the claim
MORE THAN £200,000£10,000

Defending a Claim

If you receive a Claim Form as the Defendant, act promptly. Respond within 14 days, admitting or disputing the claim. Explore options like paying, admitting liability with a request for time to pay, or disputing the claim.

Upon receiving a Claim Form designating you as the Defendant, it is crucial to act promptly to safeguard your interests. Begin by examining the ‘Particulars of Claim’ section. If it reads ‘to follow,’ there is no need to respond until you receive them. However, if the section is completed or the Particulars of Claim are attached, a reply within 14 days is mandatory. Failure to respond within this timeframe may grant the Claimant the right to enter judgment against you. The crucial date for counting the 14 days is the ‘date of service,’ approximately when you receive the Claim Form.

Accompanying the Claim Form is a ‘Response Pack,’ Form N9, explaining how to reply to the claim. Thoroughly review these instructions and ensure your response is posted at least two days before the 14-day period concludes.

Your response options to the Claim Form are to:

  1. Pay the claimed amount.
  2. Admit all or part of the claim.
  3. Admit liability for the claim and request time to pay.
  4. Dispute (‘defend’) the claim.

If you acknowledge the claim’s validity and owe the sum, responding by admitting the amount on Form N9A is advisable. Pay immediately or request installment payments if a lump sum is unaffordable. Aim to remit payment within 14 days to prevent a judgment that could impact your credit rating. If interest is claimed, add daily interest to the amount. Partial admission and dispute are possible if you have valid reasons.

The claim may be for a specified or unspecified amount, affecting the forms used.

If you believe you have a defence, complete the Acknowledgement of Service (Form N9) within 14 days of receiving the Claim Form. This provides a total of 28 days from service to file your Defence.

The Defence can be submitted on Form N9B for simplicity or prepared as a separate document with numbered paragraphs for complexity. Furnish comprehensive information, attach relevant documents, and respond to each allegation in the Particulars of Claim by admitting, denying, or ‘not admitting.’ Failure to answer assumes admission. State reasons for denial and provide your version of events.

End the Defence with a Statement of Truth confirming the belief in the Defence’s accuracy. Adherence to signing rules for companies or partnerships is crucial. Submit the Defence to the court, and provide copies to the Claimant and any other involved parties.

If you have a counterclaim against the Claimant, detail it separately in your Defence, specifying your demands and any interest claims. A fee, calculated like a claim, is applicable for the counterclaim.

Alternatively, if you believe you’ve already paid the claimed sum, submit evidence with your Defence within 14 days of receiving the Claim Form or within 28 days if an acknowledgement of service is filed.

Individual defence trigger automatic transfer to your local court, potentially increasing the Claimant’s costs. Stay informed and assert your position with confidence.

Request for Judgment and Setting Aside Judgment

Claimants may request judgment if there is no response from the Defendant within the specified timeframe. Defendants can apply to set aside judgment under certain circumstances.

If you are the Claimant and receive either:

  • no acknowledgement of service or admission from the Defendant within 14 days of service; or
  • an acknowledgement of service but no Defence within 28 days of service of the Claim Form

You may be entitled to request Judgment in Default (i.e. ask the court to order the Defendant to pay you the amount claimed because no reply has been received).  This involves filling in either Form N225 or N227, depending on whether you are asking for a specified amount or not.  Do it as soon as possible after the time limit has passed, because until the court receives your request to enter judgment the Defendant can still reply to your claim.  If the claim is for an unspecified amount and was issued by the CCMCC it will automatically be transferred to your preferred court for a hearing to decide the amount due.

Allocation to Small Claims Track

Most claims under £10,000 proceed on the small claims track. Parties receive a Notice of Proposed Allocation, complete a directions questionnaire (Form N180), and engage in negotiations or mediation if possible.

If your claim faces a defence, your legal journey might extend to a final court hearing. Typically, claims amounting to £10,000 or less find themselves on the ‘small claims track.’ After the Defendant files a defence, the court determines the track allocation and sends a Notice of Proposed Allocation to all parties involved. This notice includes a timeframe for each party to submit a completed directions questionnaire, Form N180, to the court and share it with the opposing party. Failure to adhere to this timeframe might result in the striking out of a claim or defence.

Ensure the completed questionnaire reaches the correct court, as the venue may have changed since the Defendant submitted a defence. The court will provide the updated submission location.

This guide focuses solely on the small claims court. If you believe your claim, although below £10,000, should be allocated to a different track, express your reasons in Section C of the questionnaire.

When completing the questionnaire, meticulously plan the details of your claim. Identify the necessary documents for proof, involve relevant parties and witnesses, and estimate the duration of the final hearing. If expert evidence is essential, elucidate why, name your preferred expert, and provide an estimate of their charges. In successful small claims, you can recover up to £750 for expert fees if the court deems it justified.

Consider settling through negotiation or, if needed, mediation. Indicate your preference for mediation in Section A1 of the questionnaire, and benefit from the free Small Claims Mediation Service provided by HM Courts and Tribunals Service.

The judge anticipates that you and your opponent have discussed and attempted to agree on ‘directions’ for the case’s progression, attaching them to the questionnaire. If you wish to engage in direct negotiation but feel the court process allows insufficient time, request a direction ‘stay,’ pausing the proceedings for up to one month to facilitate settlement efforts.

Following the completion of all directions questionnaires and any stays, the court issues a Notice of Allocation to each party.

While the small claims track offers a less formal process, allowing for a swift conclusion, it comes with the caveat that neither party can generally recover their costs. The exception is if you can demonstrate unreasonable behaviour by the other party, such as defending actions without grounds. This guide empowers you to present your case effectively within the small claims track.

Procedure Following Allocation

The court provides directions for progressing the case, leading up to the final hearing. The small claims track is less formal, and costs recovery is limited.

Disclosure, Witness Statements, and Expert Evidence

Parties may need to disclose relevant documents, submit witness statements, and seek expert evidence if necessary. Follow court rules and guidelines for the proper preparation of evidence.

Harnessing Expert Evidence in Your Case

When considering the use of an expert in your legal proceedings, make your intentions clear in the directions questionnaire. However, keep in mind that employing expert evidence requires the judge’s approval, granted when the judge deems it necessary to make informed decisions on the case’s issues. The court may permit you to instruct your expert, or it might order both parties to employ a joint expert, with the cost-sharing agreement.

In small claims track cases, the court typically prefers to rely on filed expert reports rather than having experts testify in court during the final hearing, which could escalate costs. If you receive permission to use an expert and emerge victorious, the judge might instruct your opponent to contribute up to £750 towards the expert’s costs.

Experts involved in the case must adhere to specific rules. They have a duty to assist the court in matters within their expertise, and this duty supersedes any obligation to the instructing party or the party footing the bill for the report.

In summary, the expert’s report should:

  • Be addressed to the court rather than you.
  • Outline the expert’s qualifications.
  • Detail any documents or materials considered during the report’s preparation.
  • Specify any person conducting tests mentioned in the report and whether it was done under the expert’s supervision.

The report must also include:

  • A summary of any range of opinions presented, along with reasons for the expert’s own opinion.
  • A statement from the expert acknowledging their duty to the court and confirming compliance with that duty.
  • A summary of any written and oral instructions provided to the expert by the party or parties seeking the report.
  • A statement of truth verifying the report, which should be signed by the expert. This statement confirms the expert’s awareness of facts within their knowledge, separating them from those outside their knowledge. It also asserts the truthfulness of the expressed opinions on the matters referenced in the report.

Final Hearing

Unless the judge determines otherwise, a final hearing is scheduled where both parties present their cases. Familiarize yourself with your case, be respectful, and address the judge appropriately.

Navigating a small claim can be a complex process, and seeking legal advice is always recommended for specific circumstances. This guide provides a general overview to help you navigate the small claims process effectively.

Generally, small claims court doesn’t allow cost recovery, and if self-representing, keep costs limited. However, if the other party acts unreasonably, costs may be awarded. Unreasonable behaviour includes last-minute case withdrawals, pursuing speculative claims, making unnecessary procedural applications, pressing hopeless cases, causing adjournments without reasonable excuse, and requesting last-minute adjournments due to poor preparation.

If you win, recoverable costs may include court fees, legal advice fees (up to £260), loss of earnings for attending the hearing (up to £95 per day), expert’s fees (up to £750), and additional travel and overnight expenses.

If a judge hasn’t opted to handle your case without a hearing, the court will assign a date and time for you and your opponent to present your cases to the district judge. Should the allocated time be inconvenient, promptly apply to the court using Form N244, paying the applicable fee. State your reasons for requesting a rescheduled date.

If attending the court is challenging due to distance, you can request the court to handle the claim in your absence. Write to the court at least seven days before the hearing, asking them to consider written evidence and submit a witness statement outlining your position. However, it is generally advisable to attend the court in person. The hearing will be relatively informal, taking place in a judge’s room, with the public allowed to listen unless there are special circumstances. The judge will wear a suit, not a wig and gown.

To prepare for the hearing, familiarize yourself with both your and your opponent’s cases. Maintain politeness with the judge and your opponent, addressing the district judge as ‘Sir’ or ‘Madam.’ Expect an active role from the judge, who may question witnesses and both parties in detail.

For Claimants:

Introduce yourself and your opponent, providing a brief summary of the claim. Keep language simple and presentations concise. Inquire if the judge has read the papers, allowing time or seeking further details. Present evidence chronologically, avoiding commentary or being abusive. If you have witnesses, prompt them to expand on their evidence. If you are the Defendant, you’ll have an opportunity to present your case after the Claimant, call your own witnesses, and question the Claimant’s witnesses. Consider bringing a calculator to work out potential interest if the judgment is in your favour. Make careful notes during the hearing, especially the judge’s remarks.

Remember that time is limited, so write down key points to ensure you cover everything. If you have permission to use an expert at the hearing, ensure they are aware of the court’s location and the hearing start time.


In small claims court, recovering costs is generally not possible. However, if you can prove the other party acted unreasonably, you may be awarded some costs. Examples of unreasonable behaviour include last-minute case withdrawals, pursuing speculative or unsupported cases, making unnecessary procedural applications, pressing hopeless cases, causing adjournments without reasonable excuse, or requesting last-minute adjournments due to poor preparation.

If you win, recoverable costs may include court fees, legal advice fees (up to £260), loss of earnings for attending the court hearing (up to £95 per day), expert’s fees (up to £750), and additional travel and overnight expenses.


If the judgment goes against you and you believe it is unfair or legally incorrect, request permission to appeal at the end of the hearing. The judge will decide on permission. If denied, seek legal advice on potential grounds for appeal. If advised, file an Appellant’s Notice (Form N164) within 21 days of the small claims court decision or any different date specified by the judge. A fee of £120 is applicable. If the judge grants permission, file an Appellant’s Notice within the specified dates, serving it on each respondent within seven days. Appeals from deputy district judges or district judges are heard by circuit judges in the same court. The court will only grant permission if it believes the appeal has a real prospect of success or if there is another compelling reason.

It is advisable to seek legal advice before deciding to appeal. While appealing decisions based on factual evidence is challenging, it may be easier for decisions on legal matters. Appeals are generally a review of proceedings rather than a re-hearing, so there is no second chance to provide evidence.


Upon issuing proceedings, consider negotiating a settlement to avoid the time and expense of a final hearing, promote amicable resolution, and prevent potential credit rating impacts. If a settlement is reached, prepare a consent order. Once agreed upon, have your opponent sign the consent order, and file it in court with a £100.00 fee.

If a hearing fee was paid, remember to write to the court, claiming a refund at least seven days before the scheduled hearing date.

Contact with the Court:

When contacting the court, always reference your claim number and, if known, the hearing date. Options include visiting the court office during their variable opening hours, calling during weekdays, writing or faxing, and utilizing the court’s website. For unresolved money claims not yet transferred from the County Court Money Claims Centre, contact details are available via email at ccmcccustomerenquiries@hmcts.gsi.gov.uk or by telephone at 0300 123 1372.

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