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Last Updated: Tuesday, 8 January, 2002, 16:17 GMT
Small Claims Court

You've phoned the customer services department, you've written a letter of complaint - you're getting nowhere.

So what's your next step?

It could be going to court, which, in most consumer cases, means the small claims court.

It might seem a bit drastic, but the court is there to help people like you and it does its best to make the whole process easy to understand and painless.

So why would you go to court?

It could be that:

  • somebody owes you money
  • you're claiming for bad workmanship
  • a road accident has left you out of pocket
  • you've suffered a personal injury
  • some goods you bought were faulty.

    Going to court should really be your last resort.

    Take whatever steps you can to get things put right - even threatening to go to court if you don't get satisfaction.

    Even after exhausting all other option, the first thing you should do is try to get advice about whether it is worth pursuing your case.

    You don't have to have a solicitor to represent you, but it is worth seeking a legal opinion before you lodge your case.

    How do I start a claim?

    You must get a Form N1, which is available free from any county court.

    Although we talk about the "small claims court", it is actually a procedure for handling smaller claims in a county court.

    You can look up your nearest court in the phone book or by visiting the court service website.

    What do I have to tell the court?

    The claim form will ask you for your details, the defendant's details, details of the claim and how much you are asking for.

    Claims of up to 5,000 will normally be heard under the small claims procedure. Larger claims will go to the full county court.

    If you are claiming for personal injury, your case will be heard under small claims only if it is for 1,000 or less.

    You can claim interest on money you are owed - the documents the court will send you explain how to work this out.

    How much will this cost me?

    It all depends on how much you are claiming.

    If your claim is less than 200, the initial court fee is 27. For a claim between 1,000 - 5,000 you will pay 115, and for more than 50,000 the fee is 500.

    Do I need a solicitor?

    If your claim is for more than 5,000 or it involves damages, you would be best advised to speak to a solicitor, although they don't have to represent you in court.

    Scottish Law
    Civil disputes are mainly handled in the Sheriff Courts.
    A special small claims part of the "summary cause" proceedings is designed to be used without the need for solicitors. It has a maximum limit of 750.
    It's also possible to bring an action under the normal, and more formal, "summary cause" proceedings up to a maximum of 1,500.
    Above this limit, consumers have to use the "ordinary cause" proceedings in the Sheriff Court, or, if they choose, the Outer House of the Court Session.
    Claims for personal injury can be more complicated so you might consider using a solicitor for one of these.

    In certain circumstances, you are entitled to take someone to speak for you in court - these are known as "lay representatives", and can be relatives, friends or an advice worker.

    If you do have a solicitor and your claim is for less than 5,000, you might have to pay for them yourself, even if you win the case.

    The court might ask the defendant to pay your costs, but there is no guarantee they will do so.

    What happens next?

    The court posts a copy of your claim form and various other forms to the defendant. If the defendant does not reply, you can ask the court to make a judgement by default.

    If the defendant admits your claim, you will be sent another form to determine the amount of payment.

    If the defendant disputes your claim or makes a counter-claim, you will get a copy of the defence form and more forms to fill in.

    So I have to appear in court?

    Not necessarily. The judge might decide that your claim can be dealt with without a hearing.

    But, if it does go ahead, you will either be given a date for a final hearing or be called for a preliminary hearing if particular circumstances apply.

    Before you go to court, make sure you comply with all directions from the court, such as sending documents to the defendant.

    What happens once I get to court?

    On the day itself, make sure your case is concise and contains all the relevant information - you will not have much time to put your side to the judge.

    Make sure you have all the documents you will need with you.

    If you want to use an expert's opinion or evidence, you must get permission from the judge beforehand - and you will have to pay their expenses, although the defendant might be ordered to pay some of this if you win.

    Your case might be heard in private or the public might be allowed in.

    It will generally be informal, you might not have to swear an oath and the judge might put restrictions on how long you have to cross-examine the defendant or their witnesses.

    How do I know if I've won?

    You will be sent an order telling you the judge's decision.

    If you lose, you have 14 days to appeal. But you must be able to show that there was a serious irregularity or the court made a mistake of law.

    If you win, the defendant will be told how much to pay you; the sum could include interest, your court fees and other costs.

    What happens if the defendant won't pay?

    If you haven't received your money after a certain period of time, there are various options open to you.

    All involve a fee or other costs:

  • Warrant of Execution - This allows court bailiffs to seize cash or goods from the defendant. But there's no guarantee you'll get your money back.
  • Attachment of Earnings - If the amount owed is more than 50, you can ask the court to take it from the defendant's wages. They have to have a job for you to use this method.
  • Charging Order - This prevents the defendant from selling their land or property without paying you first. You'll need a solicitor and could wait a long time for your money.
  • Garnishee Order - This freezes the defendant's bank account until you get paid. You can also use the order on someone who owes the defendant money. You will need details of the defendant's bank account, but this can be a very effective method.
  • Bankruptcy - You can issue a petition against the defendant. This can be expensive and there's always the chance they will happily go bankrupt and walk away without paying you.


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