Anyone considering using the small claims court in England and Wales must follow the Practice Direction on Pre-Action Conduct.
This may sound daunting but, it's just a set of guidelines to help you resolve your dispute and take your claim to court, if necessary.
1 Follow the small claims process
Visit the HM Courts & Tribunals Service (Her Majesty's Court Service) online in England and Wales, the Northern Ireland Court Service or your local court to get a claim form, and other documents that explain the small claims process.
Make sure you've complied with all the steps set out in the Practice Direction on Pre-Action Conduct before you start court action.
If you've taken all the steps necessary to avoid court action but haven't been able to resolve the situation, then you'll need to complete the necessary claim forms.
2 Filling in the small claim forms
You need to have the full name and address of the defendant. If the defendant is a company, you'll need to give the address of the registered office.
If you can't find this, then you can use a trading address instead.
You must set out in full the reason for your claim and the sum you're claiming from the defendant.
You can attach documents that could help prove your claim. When you've completed the form, the court will log the document and assign it a claim number.
If you need dedicated legal advice, you can speak to a Which? Legal Service lawyer who may be able to help you.
- Follow the Practice Direction on Pre-Action Conduct
- Clearly set out the reasons for your claim
- Give the defendant 14 days to issue a defence
3 Wait for a reply
You must give the defendant a chance to send a defence – a brief explanation of why they're disputing your claim.
Alternatively, the defendant may accept your claim in full or in part.
The defendant has 14 days from the 'date of service' (the date by which they should have received your claim) to respond.
Within that time, they can either file a defence or file an Acknowledgement of Service.
If they file an Acknowledgment of Service within 14 days, they have a further 14 days in which to file a defence.
4 Directions Questionnaire
For claims from 1 April 2013, following the receipt of a defence a court official will send out a notice of proposed allocation together with a Directions Questionnaire.
Only where a party is a litigant in person (i.e. acting for themselves) will the court send out the appropriate Directions Questionnaire.
The term 'directions' refers to the things that the Court orders or directs the parties to do before the final hearing takes place.
All parties will be required to serve a copy of the completed Directions Questionnaire and any other documents required by the notice on all other parties.
5 Follow up your claim
If the other side doesn't file a defence, you can make an application to the court to enter a judgment for you.
Fill in HM Courts & Tribunals Service form N227 - this is available online or from your local court.
The court may grant your claim in full or set a date for a hearing where it decides how much you should receive.
If the other side does file a defence, you'll have to wait until the court assigns a date.
In the meantime you'll receive an Directions Questionnaire, which the court uses to decide how complex your case is, and how long it will take to hear.
You will receive a set of directions from the court which are instructions to the parties as the case moves towards the final hearing.
For example, the direction could state that both parties send each other, and the court, copies of the documents they will be referring to during the hearing.
If you win your case, the judge will state how long the defendant has to pay the sum you've been awarded – this is often one month.
This amount can include expenses such as your court fees, reasonable travelling expenses, the cost of staying overnight if relevant, and up to £90 for loss of earnings if you had to take unpaid time off work to attend the court hearing.
You can ask for the same for any witnesses you called, as long as it was necessary for them to attend the hearing.
In Northern Ireland you can only claim the court fee.