What kind of Small Claim are we talking about?
This blog is about claims to recover unpaid sums of money either due under invoices or because someone failed to do something when they were supposed to or how they were expected to deliver a service or things.
This blog is NOT about road traffic accidents or claims against local authorities (for example, accidents caused by slipping or tripping on uneven pavements) or for injuries suffered in the workplace.
Therefore, what we are talking about in this article are claims for breach of contract worth less than £10,000; for the purpose of this article we shall call those Contract Claims. The law says those are classed as a Small Claim and they have a simpler procedure than for higher value claims. Nevertheless where and how to bring a Small Claim is not without layers of detail. After all, this is the law!
We offer only a beginner’s guide to some of those issues. It is not legal advice and it should not be relied upon when bringing or defending a claim. It is strictly a starting point for those beginning to think about how to issue or defend a Small Claim.
The court rules for the type of Small Claim we are considering in this article can be found here.
Where do you start your claim?
For the purpose of this article the cases we consider are all begun and defended by people living in or involve companies registered to an address in England Wales.
The Small Claims Portal (SCP) has lots of resources about the Small Claims process and this helps on the question of foreign parties.
Who are you and who are you going to claim against?
If you are an individual or a limited company you can bring a claim with as many Claimants as you wish against as many Defendants as you want. However it is important to note a difference between paper claims and online claims.
The Courts in England and Wales (E&W) are in the process of modernising which means they are converting their processes to digital platforms. These are very easy to use and there is more about the digital process later in this piece. As at March 2022 the online platform can only issue a claim by 1 Claimant against 1 Defendant. This is due to change later this year.
When did your claim happen?
There are some technical issues to consider about how much time you have to start a Court case after the events in question. In Contract Cases the period is usually 6 years. Though limitation issues (as lawyers call them) are fraught with complications. The SCP has an excellent blog about these issues here. As a rule of thumb – ALWAYS issue sooner rather than later!
How do you make your claim?
What you need to begin is information, as follows:
- Your name, postal address and email address
- The other side’s name, postal address and email address
- If either or both are a limited company then check out Companies House for the company’s/ies’ registered name and address
- What is the case all about? Work out a short summary. For example:
“I ordered 10 panels of fencing for my back garden from XYZ Limited. They promised to deliver the panels on 10 March 2021. XYZ asked for payment upfront and I paid £300 as per their invoice. They never delivered the panels and now refuse to talk to me.”
- How much are you claiming?
- Have all the documents relevant to the case to hand and in date order, earliest in time first. This includes emails, letters, text messages.
- Prepare a statement for yourself summarising each event that led to the promise to pay £300 and how XYZ Limited promised to deliver when you say they promised. Set out who you dealt with at XYZ by reference to name(s)/date(s)/time(s) where and when you attempted to discuss this with them
- Are any witnesses involved? Consider if any third party has relevant things to say, get a written or typed summary of what they will say and have that ready.
- You can (and should) include a claim for simple interest from the date the money left your Bank to the date of the claim and continuing at 8% per annum.
This example does not include expert witnesses. If they had delivered the panels but the panels were broken or in some way not up to spec then you will need photographic evidence of the condition of the panels when delivered and possibly asking another fencing contractor to provide a statement about the inadequacy of the panels for the site.
Where do you begin?
Once upon a time that would have been pretty straightforward – you would have gone to your nearest County Court building, filled out a form, paid a fee in cash or by cheque and away you go! That remains possible of course but it can take a lot of time and for this type of claim the Counter is only open from 10.00 until 14.00 weekdays when it is busy with lots of other people trying to do the same or something similar to you!
The good news is that there are now online options open 24/7 and relatively easy to use – if you choose the right platform! The major advantages of the online option is speed and convenience.
For Small Claims there are four different online platforms. These are for different purposes but we summarise each below and provide a link:
|Money Claims Online (MCOL)||The oldest of the four and is to be phased out. Very clunky and worth avoiding as there is a much easier option, see below.|
|Claims Portal||Road Traffic accidents, workplace accidents and accidents in spaces owned by local authorities (e.g. pavements) up to £25,000 in value|
|Official Injury Claim||Road Traffic accidents that cause minor injuries either as a driver or passenger in a road traffic accident and not your fault.|
|Online Civil Money Claims (OCMC)||This is designed for people to use for money claims where you know the exact amount due. Lawyers are not allowed to use this platform. Using it is straightforward just answer simple questions and your answers are compiled by the platform to build your claim.|
You will need a debit or credit card with which to pay the Court fee unless you are entitled to Help with Fees. This link has information about the level of Court fees due and explains (scroll down that page) what State help may be available to pay the Court fee.
Building work not yet complete!
Beware that the OCMC platform has not been finished and runs out when a timetable setting form called a Directions Questionnaire is completed and filed electronically at which point mediation cuts in.
If mediation does not work the case falls out of the platform into the paper based County Court where cases are often lost and take over a year to come to a final hearing.
How does the mediation option work?
Mediation is a form of Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) that involves a neutral third party considering each parties’ case and suggesting issues that may be worth considering in an effort to reach a deal and avoid the angst, and cost, of a trial at which there is only one outcome: win or lose.
In the Small Claims Court mediation is delivered free-of-charge by the Small Claims Mediation Service, SCMS. This employs specially trained Court staff who deal with the mediation by telephone without sight of the Court file so you are free to explain what the case is about in your own words.
The SCMS has been successful in that about 67% of all cases settle on the day or shortly afterwards. Given the problems associated with the paper-based County Courts mediation has got to be worth trying.
What if the case does not settle?
Then you are heading for a trial 9-12+ months later.
You can arrange representation at the final hearing by a barrister through the SCP at a fixed price. Other support prior to the hearing, also at fixed prices, is available. Contact SCP to learn more about support options via this link.
Tony Guise is the Director of DisputesEfiling.com the specialist provider of ADR management platforms. He is a Past President of the London Solicitors Litigation Association and former member of the Civil Justice Committee of the Law Society of England and Wales.