Small Claims through the County Court
At some time in your life there is a good chance that you will be involved in a dispute with somebody, or some organisation, that cannot be resolved without taking Court action. It may be for a bad debt, shoddy or inadequate workmanship, faulty goods or damage to property.
The County Court offers a simple procedure to enable you to pursue the claim yourself without the need to instruct a solicitor. The County Court has jurisdiction in cases where the amount claimed does not exceed £5,000, or in the case of personal injuries £10, 000. In cases where larger sums are involved we would generally advise you to instruct a Solicitor experienced in civil litigation as procedures can become very complex.
The County Court small claims procedure is designed to be simple enough for anyone to use, as it is intended to make the law available to people who perhaps could not afford to employ a solicitor. In cases where the amount claimed is small it is often pointless to instruct a solicitor as fees involved may be far in excess of the amount claimed, particularly if the matter is disputed. Even if costs are awarded against your opponent the costs awarded by the court will not generally cover your solicitor’s fees.
The County Court offers a simple procedure enabling people to deal with their own claims. Court clerks are trained to give every assistance to the general public, they will ensure that paperwork is completed correctly and offer guidance on Court procedures. Court Clerks cannot however advise on the viability of your case. If you have any doubt as to the viability or validity of your case we would generally advise you to seek advice before proceeding, otherwise you may be liable for your opponents costs in the event of your action being unsuccessful.
County court small claims procedure
The default action
This can now be done on line at www.moneyclaim.gov.uk - Money Claim Online - the Court Service's Internet based service for claimants and defendants.
Or you can do the following:
The plaintiff (the person bringing the action) commences a default action by issuing a summons through the Court against the defendant, whereby the defendant is given twenty-eight days to either admit the claim or defend it, either in whole or in part. You can obtain the necessary form from your local County Court. The form is very straightforward, and will contain your details, the defendant's details, and details of the actual claim. The details about the claim are called the particulars of claim. It is important to note at this stage that the action must be issued in the County Court for the area where the cause of action occurred. A specimen of this form and of the other forms needed can be found by visiting www.courtservice.gov.uk. You will also find helpful explanatory leaflets.
On completion of the summons, you should attend the Court, and on payment of the appropriate fee, the Court will serve the summons on the defendant by post. Fees are on a scale varying with the amount of the claim and the Court will let you know the amount due.
On receipt of the summons the defendant should return part of the form to the Court either admitting the claim and stating how he proposes to pay, or defending the claim, either in whole or part. If the defendant fails to return the form to the Court within the twenty-eight day period, the plaintiff will be entitled to apply to the Court for judgement to be entered in his favour, and apply for the order to be enforced by the Court.
- If the defendant admits to the claim and makes an offer of payment the Court will notify the Plaintiff accordingly. The plaintiff can then either decide to accept the offer of payment, or refuse to accept it, if he feels it is inadequate.
- If he refuses to accept the offer then the matter will go before a judge to decide what is reasonable.
If the defendant has replied to the Court to the effect that he intends to defend the action either in whole or part, the matter will have to be decided upon by a judge.
- If the matter is to go before a judge the Court will forward a questionnaire to you, and the Court officers will, on receiving your completed questionnaire, decide on what is the best and simplest way to deal with the matter. In the event of the matter going before the Court there is no need to be concerned as the hearings will generally be very informal, and if you are not represented the Court will give you every assistance in putting over your case.
Enforcement of Judgements
If the defendant has admitted liability, the plaintiff can apply to the Court for judgement to be entered in his favour. Or if the judge has decided upon the matter in the plaintiffs favour, the Court will notify the defendant that judgement has been entered. Once judgement has been entered the plaintiff is entitled to enforce the judgement through the Court if the defendant does not settle the claim. Judgement can be enforced in three ways.
- Warrant of execution: - here the plaintiff applies to the Court for a warrant to send the Court bailiff to the defendant's house or business to take goods to the value of the order. This is called distraint. The goods the bailiff takes will be auctioned off at a public auction. If the auction raises more than the amount due, the surplus will be returned to the defendant.
- Requesting an oral examination: - The plaintiff can request that the defendant be summonsed to appear before a judge at which time the defendant can be examined under oath as to their means, and the judge will make what he feels to be an appropriate order for payment.
- Charging or Garnishee orders: - Here the Court makes an order that the defendants property can be charged i.e. a charge can be registered against the property at the land registry, which will mean that the property cannot be sold without the charge being cleared, and this can only be done by paying the amount of the order in full.
The above has been to give you some idea of what is involved in bringing a claim in the County Court, and to hopefully give you the confidence to deal with matters yourself. If you do decide to try to deal with a matter yourself we would advise you to visit your local County Court office to discuss the matter with one of the clerks. They will give you explanatory leaflets and all the necessary forms to enable you to proceed. As mentioned before, you will be able to find specimens of all the necessary forms, together with the explanatory leaflets on www.courtservice.gov.uk.
Once you have carried out one County Court claim you will realise how easy it is and will be confident to deal with any other disputes you may have in the future. It is particularly advantageous to know the procedure when you are in a business where you are often owed money, as there will be many occasions where you will need the Courts to pursue debts.
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