When to use the small claims court
You can use the small claims court for most contract claims.
This means the small claims track process can be used for many consumer problems ranging from unfairly issued parking tickets to retailers who refuse to take responsibility for their faulty goods.
There is a small claims track claim limit. The total you can claim in England and Wales is £10,000, in Scotland it's £5,000 and in Northern Ireland it's £3,000.
There are a couple of key exceptions to this. You can't claim up to this amount for housing disrepair or personal injury, the limit for these is £1,000.
But even if your claim is within the claims limit, a judge may decide that a case cannot be heard as a small claim if the case is believed to be too complex.
You will be asked whether you would like to be referred to a mediation service after you commence a small claims court claim in England and Wales.
This is to improve awareness of Alternative Dispute Resolution and encourage parties to use it.
This does not mean that mediation is mandatory but it can be an effective way to settle your dispute out of court.
If you unreasonably refuse to try mediation, or are unreasonable in the conduct of the case, then this could result in cost penalties being made against you.
This would be at the discretion of the judge.
For the mediation itself, the mediator will ensure that both parties are aware that the process is not a judicial hearing and that the mediator will not take sides but take a neutral role.
The outcome of the mediation could be something other than money - possibly an apology or an agreement for a trader to return and do the faulty work again.
Not all mediations result in settlement of the dispute. However, if you sign a settlement agreement at the end of mediation, then that agreement will be binding on you.
Small claims court limitations
If your claim is above the small claims track limit, or a judge decides that you cannot use the small claims court, your claim will be allocated to a different track within the county court.
Beyond the small claims track there are two other tracks - fast track or multi track.
To pursue claims outside the small claims track is likely to involve a more complicated process, can be more costly and can take longer.
And, you'll also normally need a solicitor to prepare your case.
It's worth noting though, that your car or home insurance policies may have legal expenses cover.
This means they could pay for your legal costs to take action in the county court for certain types of cases. Check your policy for details.
How much will it cost?
Using the small claims court should cost you relatively little. This is partly because you put the case yourself, so you don't have to pay for a solicitor.
You're required to pay the fees needed to take a claim through the small claims court in advance.
The total amount you could have to pay depends on the amount you're claiming and whether you're in England, Wales, Scotland or Northern Ireland.
It will also depend on how far your claim goes through the court process.
In England and Wales you will need to pay an issue fee to start a small claims court action.
The lowest amount this could be is £25 for claims up to £300 that are issued online.
To work out issue fees for your particular claim, visit the official government website about justice in the UK.
Paying for experts
You may also have to pay for an expert to provide evidence to support your case. For example, a mechanic to say that a fault in your car shouldn't occur in a car of that age.
If you win, in most cases the defendant will have to pay these fees on top of the amount you're claiming for.
The upper limit of the amount that can be recovered for experts' fees in a case allocated to the small claims court is £750.
You should agree with the other party that they are happy with the expert you plan to use and you should keep expert fees proportionate to your claim.