The Small Claims Track
If you have a straightforward claim, with a financial value of less than £10,000, it is very likely that your claim will be allocated to the small claims track, which is also known as going to the ‘smalls claims court’.
The small claims track is one of three ‘tracks’ which the court allocates claims to; however, this article is solely focused on the small claims track and what this means for you, as a potential claimant or defendant (collectively ‘litigants’). The purpose of the small claims track is to provide a relatively inexpensive way to resolve disputes of lower values.
It is purposely designed to be straightforward so that litigants can act in person i.e., without instructing a solicitor or barrister to represent them. In fact, the court encourage litigants to act in person in such cases. That is of course not to say that a litigant cannot instruct a solicitor or barrister, but the litigant’s legal costs associated with obtaining legal advice or representation are not recoverable from the other party, even if they ‘win’. It is often the case that a litigant could spend more on legal fees than the actual value of their claim.
The small claims track is very structured and far simpler than the other tracks. It does not include some of the sophisticated procedures which are usually more appropriate for larger and more complex claims. For instance, there is no onerous disclosure obligations; most interim remedies are not available; expert evidence can only be relied upon with the court’s permission; due to the cost rules, there is no need for cost budgeting; and there is the option for the matter dealt with on paper, without a hearing, if the parties agree.
Whilst legal costs associated with instructing a solicitor or barrister are not recoverable, there are some costs which are recoverable if a litigant is successful. These include:
a. fixed costs relating to issuing the claim
b. court fees
c. witnesses’ expenses for travel, subsistence and loss of earnings (currently) £95 per day
d. expert fees (if permitted by the court) of up to £750
When a claim is allocated to the small claims track, the court will usually issue standard directions, which are basically instructions. These will likely include:
a. the parties must file and serve on the other side copies of the documents they intend to rely upon, including witness statements, no later than 14 days before the hearing;
b. the original documents must be brought to the hearing;
c. notice must be given of the date and length of the hearing; and
d. the parties must inform the court if they settle the case by agreement.
There are a number of resources available on the Government Website to assist litigants with the small claims track procedure and issuing a claim: Make a court claim for money – GOV.UK (www.gov.uk). There are also other agencies, such as the Citizens Advice Bureau who may be able to offer you free legal advice: Small claims – Citizens Advice.
As an alternative to the small claims court process, if you have complaint about an organisation, such as energy provider or housing association, the Ombudsman may be able to help: Complaining to an ombudsman – Citizens Advice; or if your complaint is regarding a trader, Trading Standards may be able to provide assistance: Welcome to National Trading Standards
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