What claims go to the small claims track?
The small claims track is generally for lower value and less complicated civil claims with a value of up to £10,000.
If it is a personal injury claim or you’re tenant claiming against landlord for repairs, the limit for the small claims track is £1,000. A claim for a remedy for harassment or unlawful eviction relating to residential premises will also not be allocated to the small claims track whatever the financial value of the claim.
You are not allowed to call expert evidence – whether written or oral – to back up your claim unless the court gives permission. If it doesn’t give permission, your case will need to be allocated to another track.
If the case is complicated, the judge might decide it needs to go to another track for a full hearing, even if it is of low value.
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;
- an obligation on the parties to inform the court if they settle the case by agreement;
- a party who wishes to rely on an expert must inform the court immediately on receipt of the notice and seek permission, explaining why an expert is necessary.
If a party fails to comply with the directions, it may lead to the case being adjourned and the party at fault having to pay costs.
The judge may make special directions such as:
- requiring one of the parties to clarify their case by a date of the judge’s choosing;
- moving the hearing to another court;
- requiring the parties to submit specified materials or signed statements setting out the evidence of all witnesses on whom each party intends to rely
- telling the parties to jointly instruct a single expert if the court feels expert evidence is necessary. If the parties cannot agree who to choose and what arrangements to make about paying their fee, either party must apply to the court for further directions;
- if a party wants to use video evidence, the court must be informed and the other party allowed to see the video before the hearing.
After special directions are given, the court will consider what further directions are to be given within 28 days.
The court may hold a preliminary hearing for the consideration of the claim, but only where:
- it considers that special directions are needed to ensure a fair hearing and it appears necessary for a party to attend court to ensure he understands how to comply with the special directions; or
- to enable it to dispose of the claim on the basis that one or other of the parties has no real prospect of success at a final hearing; or
- to enable it to strike out a statement of case or part of a statement of case on the basis it discloses no reasonable grounds for bringing or defending the claim.
When considering whether to hold a preliminary hearing, the court must consider the desirability of limiting the expense to the parties of attending court. Where the court decides to hold a preliminary hearing, it will give the parties at least 14 days’ notice of the date of the hearing.
The court may treat the preliminary hearing as the final hearing of the claim if all the parties agree.
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.
The court will give the parties at least 21 days’ notice of the date fixed for the final hearing, unless the parties agree to accept less notice.
Small claims hearings are informal, and the strict rules of evidence do not apply. The District Judge may proceed in any way it considers fair. S/he 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;
- expert’s fees;
- in cases involving a claim for an injunction or specific performance, the cost of legal advice and assistance up to a certain limit.
The court also has the discretion to award costs where a party has behaved unreasonably. This includes:
- making needless applications.
- forcing a hearing to be adjourned;
- failing to comply with directions, orders or protocols;
- refusing to try to settle the case through negotiation.