Allocation to the small claims track
This is the normal track for defended claims with a value not exceeding £5,000. Although most claims up to £5,000 will be dealt with on the small claims track, the following types of claim will not normally be allocated there even if they have a value up to £5,000:
- Personal injuries cases where the value of the claim for pain, suffering and loss of amenity exceeds £1,000;
- Claims by tenants of residential premises seeking orders that their landlords should carry out repairs or other works to the premises where the value of the claim exceeds £1,000;
- Claims by residential tenants seeking damages against their landlords for harassment or unlawful eviction;
- Claims involving a disputed allegation of dishonesty.
Even if the claim is worth less than £5,000 there may be other reasons why it should not be allocated to the small claims track. One relates to expert evidence, which is not allowed in small claims track cases, either by calling an expert at the hearing or simply relying on an expert’s report, unless the court gives permission.
If the claim is worth more than £5,000 the parties may consent to it being allocated to the small claims track. However the court retains control, and may refuse to allocate the case in accordance with the parties’ wishes if it feels the case is not suitable for the small claims track.
Once a case has been allocated to the small claims track the court will give directions, which are usually set out in the notice telling the parties that the case has been allocated to this track. The general form of standard directions provides for:
- The parties to serve on the other side copies of the documents they intend to rely upon no later than 14 days before the hearing;
- The original documents to be brought to the hearing;
- Notice of the hearing date and the length of the hearing;
- Encouraging the parties to contact each other with a view to settling the claim or narrowing the issues; and
- An obligation on the parties to inform the court if they settle the case by agreement.
In most small claim cases witness statements are not exchanged, as this adds to the costs and formality. A district judge nevertheless has the power to make a direction for the exchange of witness statements. The general rule in small claims track cases is that no expert evidence is allowed whether oral or in the form of a report. If a party regards expert evidence as necessary, a special direction will be required, and this should be mentioned in the allocation questionnaire.
Determination without a hearing
If all the parties agree, a small claim can be determined by the District Judge on the papers without a hearing.
Small claims hearings are informal, and the strict rules of evidence do not apply. The District Judge may proceed in any way that is considered fair. The District Judge may ask the witnesses questions before allowing the parties to do so, may refuse to allow cross-examination until all the witnesses have given evidence-in-chief, and may impose limits on the scope of cross examination.
Claims allocated to the small claims track are subject to severe costs restrictions. The rule is that no costs will be ordered between the parties except:
- The fixed costs relating to issuing the claim;
- Court fees;
- Witness expenses reasonably incurred for travel and subsistence;
- Loss of earnings or loss of leave up to £50 per day;
- Expert’s fees, up to £200 per expert; and
- In cases involving a claim for an injunction or specific performance, the cost of legal advice and assistance up to £260.