The following is a guide to the Small Claims Procedure. If you are thinking of making a claim, we would suggest that you read it carefully.
What is a small claim?
A small claim is a civil case and is a process whereby certain types of claims can be decided without instructing a solicitor. Generally, a small claim is one where the value to be claimed is less than £3000.
If the value of the case is more than £3,000 the applicant must either:
- claim a maximum of £3,000, clearly stating on the application form that they are abandoning any amount due over this amount
- issue a civil bill (up to £15,000) for a full hearing
Some of the most common types of claim in the small claims court are:
- compensation for faulty services provided, for example, by builders, dry cleaners and garages
- compensation for faulty goods, for example, televisions or washing machines which go wrong
- disputes between landlords and tenants, for example, arrears in rent or compensation for not completing repairs
- outstanding wages or money in lieu of notice.
Before applying to the court
You must try and settle a claim yourself before taking court action otherwise the court may penalise you and should only use the court if you cannot get the problem solved by negotiation. The court will expect you to make your claim in writing, giving the other person an acceptable time to reply (usually a month). You should also warn them that you will take court action if they do not reply within the given time frame.
Starting a claim
To start making a claim you complete a claim form which is available from local courts and from the Northern Ireland Courts and Tribunals Service website at www.courtsni.gov.uk.
Any essential, additional documents, such as a copy of an agreement, need to be attached to the claim form. Details of the applicant and the respondent (the person against whom the claim is made) and how much is being claimed are asked for. The claim form includes space for all the claim details. If more space is needed to complete, the details can be set out on a separate piece of paper.
Applications can also be made online at www.courtsni.gov.uk. This online service allows the members of the public and businesses to make a small claims application outside normal working hours and track the progress of the application online.
Applying for the claim form to be issued
As the applicant, you should send or take three copies of the claim form to the court where you want to start court action. You should keep an extra copy for your own records. You must also take or send the court fee. (The fee will depend on the amount of money claimed or from the Courts Service website at www.courtsni.gov.uk).
The court will then issue the claim form to the respondent. It also gives you a notice of issue which is a document with the case number on it.
If the respondent is not defending the case
If you, the respondent, accept that you owe the money claimed, you must pay the amount claimed, and applicant’s fee, to the applicant.
If you can pay the money immediately, you should send it directly to the applicant. You should inform the court that the money has been paid so you can complete an acceptance of liability to close the case.
It is possible to suggest an arrangement if you need time to pay, for example, you can pay the money in instalments or all the money in one lump sum at a certain date in the future. If the applicant accepts this offer, they will have to return a form to court requesting ‘decree’. This is a document which specifies a reasonable time to pay back the money. If you are the respondent and you do not keep to the arrangement, the applicant can take legal action forcing you to pay.
If you are the applicant and you do not accept the respondent’s offer, you must give your reasons and a judge will decide what a reasonable arrangement should be.
If the claim has been made online and is not disputed, the complete process can be completed over the internet.
If the respondent is defending the case
If you, the respondent, do not accept that you owe the money that is being claimed, you will be defending the case. You need to issue a counter claim or notice of dispute by filling in the form 126A which was sent to you with the claim form.
As the respondent, if you do not send a response in to the court, the applicant can apply for a decree to be made against you. You can send your form either disputing or making a counterclaim to the court. This must be done before a certain date which will be provided with the claim form.
When the form is returned to the court, the court will arrange for the case to be listed and a date will be allocated to attend the hearing.
The date of hearing
The notice of hearing will normally specify the time, the date and the place where the hearing will take place and how much time is allocated for it.
As the applicant, if you want to attend the hearing, but cannot, you can contact the court and apply for a later date to be set. It is important that the respondent attends the court hearing as their absence may be held against them. If the respondent does not attend, a hearing will be convened, and a summary judgement made.
Preparing the case
It is important to prepare your case carefully. Some points to consider are:
- You can use the legal aid scheme to cover the cost of legal advice (but not representation) from a solicitor. This is only available if you have a low income
- The notes about the case should be written in date order as well as all letters and documents about the case should be ready for the hearing
- Evidence of damaged or faulty goods should be taken (or photographic evidence)
- Evidence of expenses should be available with any relevant receipts
Hearings in the small claims forum are usually held in public and are informal. If English is not your first language it is advisable to have an interpreter present to help you to put forward your case. At the end of the hearing, the judge will give the judgment and the reasons for this judgement.
If you are the applicant and you your claim is successful, you will get the court fees back as well as the claim, and you can ask for certain expenses also. If you are not successful, the respondent will not be ordered to pay you anything and you will not receive your fee back.
You can appeal against a judgment in the small claims if:
- the court made a mistake in law, or
- there was a serious irregularity in the proceedings.
If you want to appeal, a notice of appeal must be filed within 21 days and a fee is payable.
Should you run into any difficulties you can make an appointment with a lawyer from Harry McPartland & Sons Solicitors and have your questions answered.