Making a claim in the small claims court

When to use the small claims court

If you believe you are owed money either by a business or an individual and they refuse to pay, then you can use the small claims court to try and recover the money you are owed.  In England and Wales the small claims court can be used to make a claim for sums under £5000.  However, in order for personal injury claims to be dealt with in the small claims court the amount claimed must be less than £1000.

What can be dealt with in the small claims court?

In addition to being owed money by someone, people also issue claims for a variety of other reasons, such as:

  • bad workmanship
  • personal injury
  • road traffic accidents
  • goods not supplied
  • damage to their property
  • wages owed or money in lieu of notice
  • disputes between landlords and tenants e.g.. rent arrears or compensation for not doing repairs
  • compensation for faulty goods or services provided

When should I go to court?

Going to court should always be a last resort.  The court will expect you to have tried to settle the matter before commencing court action.  You will have also been expected to warn the other party of the possibility court action should they fail to settle within a given time.

A mediation service may also be considered before court action.  This involves an impartial third party, known as a mediator, helping both parties reach a mutually acceptable solution to the dispute without the need for court action.  A case can sometimes be referred to a mediator by a court, even after a claim has been started.

Starting the claim

The first step in issuing a claim is to fill in a claim form.  These are available from your local court and from Her Majesty’s Courts Service website.

Issuing the claim form

On the claim form you will need to enter your details, those of the defendant, and the amount being claimed.  The claim form will also include space for details of the claim, known as particulars of the claim.  This should be to set out details of the claim.  If there is not sufficient room a separate piece of paper may be used.  If you are claiming interest then this must be included on the claim form.

Is the defendant defending the case?

If the defendant accepts that the money claimed is owed, and will not be defending the case then the court will not allocate it to the small claims track.  If you are the defendant, you should pay the claimant directly by sending him the money.  If you cannot afford to pay all the money at once and require further time to pay, you may suggest an arrangement.  If your offer is accepted, the claimant will need to send a form to the court that requests ‘judgment on admission’.  If the claimant does not accept the defendants offer, he must provide his reasons.  A court official will decide on the amount that should be paid.  Both parties will be sent an order for payment. 

If the defendant does not accept that the money is owed and will be defending the case then he will need to respond to the claim form within 14 days.  A defendant can send their defence to the court and an allocation questionnaire will be sent to both the defendant and the claimant.  The date by which it should be returned will be specified on it.  A fee will need to paid by the claimant upon returning this form.  The allocation questionnaire will  be used by the court to determine which track to allocate the case to.

After deciding to allocate the case to the small claims track, a notice of allocation will be sent to the parties.  It will advise the parties on what they need to do to get ready for the final hearing.

If the notice of allocation does not include an allocation a final hearing date, the court may have proposed the claim is dealt with without a hearing

The hearing

The time, date, and location of the hearing will normally be specified on the notice of allocation.  It should also give details of how much time has been allowed to hear the case.

Unless the two parties agree, or the court believes it necessary then the final hearing will be held in public. At the hearing any method of dealing with the case may be adopted by the judge but hearings in the small claims court are generally informal affairs.  The time given to the parties or to witnesses to give evidence may be limited.

An interpreter may be used by persons for whom English is not a first language.  Lay representatives may also speak on behalf of a party at the hearing.

The judge will give judgement at the end of the hearing along with the reasons for the judgement.


If you are the claimant and you win your case, you will get the court fees back as well as the claim, and you can ask for certain expenses also. If you lose, you will not get the court fees back. But it is unlikely that you will have to pay any other costs.

If the claimant wins their case, they will get the court fees they paid back along with their claim.  However, if the claimant loses his case they will rarely be required to pay any costs.  All they will lose is their court fee.

Enforcement of the court’s order

If the defendant does not pay after losing the case, then the claimant will need to return to court and begin enforcement proceedings.  A fee will be payable.

A number of methods may be used to obtain payment.  These include:

  • Warrant of Execution

This involves court Bailiffs seizing the defendant’s personal belongings and selling them to satisfy the debt.

  • Warrant of Delivery

This is when the defendant has ignored an order to return goods or a particular item belonging to the claimant.  A court Bailiff will be authorised to remove the goods and to return them to the claimant.

  • Attachment of Earnings

Provided the amount owed is greater than £50, an Attachment of Earnings Order can be applied for to deduct an amount from the debtors wages each week until the debt is satisfied.

  • Charging Order

If the defendant has assets such as property a charge, known as a Charging Order, can be registered against it at the land registry.  This will show that you have an interest in the property.


An appeal against a court’s judgement can only be made if there has been a mistake in law or if there have been serious irregularities in the proceedings.  A notice to appeal must be filed within 21 days and a fee is payable.

Article written by...
Nicola Laver LLB
Nicola Laver LLB

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A non-practising solicitor, Nicola is also a fully qualified journalist. For the past 20 years, she has worked as a legal journalist, editor and author.