Expert view: Gary Rycroft on how the Small Claims Court works

4 min read
November 29, 2021
Gary Rycroft

If you’ve made a complaint but you’re still unhappy with the response from the business – or it’s failed to sort things out in time – then you might be wondering where you can turn next. 

Resolver will always recommend the free options available to you where possible. With many business sectors, there is a free Ombudsman or Alternative Dispute Resolution Service (ADR) that you can go to if you have a problem that you can’t sort out. However, disappointingly, there is no alternative but the Courts with many other sectors if you want to take things further.

How many sectors have no ombudsman or ADR scheme? 

The good news is many service areas have free alternatives to the Courts, including; finance, energy, water, telecommunications and legal services. There are many other schemes covering parking, airlines, vehicles and more. However, of the 88 main products and services featuring in Resolver’s annual complaints data: 

  • 33 did not have an ombudsman or ADR scheme at all or were members of a trade body that had few powers or was considered to be business-focused. 
  • 14 were members of ADR schemes which could not generally compel a business to pay compensation or allowed the firm to choose from a range of ADR providers, raising questions about impartiality. 
  • 41 ombudsman or Government affiliated complaint schemes were in place, though within those schemes are considerable variations in powers and compensation limits. 

So an ombudsman was available in just under half of all services, and in four in ten  there was no ADR scheme at all. In these circumstances, going to the Small Claims Court may be your only option. 

About the Small Claims Court 

The idea of going to Court can be rather intimidating and might seem too expensive to be a realistic option. That’s why the Small Claims Court was set up – to provide people with a cheaper, more accessible route to court action. 

Most of the things you can use Resolver to make a complaint about can be pursued through the Small Claims Court if you are unhappy. So, if you’ve lost money as a result of the actions of a business or organisation, bought something that doesn’t work or a service that hasn’t been provided or have had a contract dispute, you could bring a case through the Court. It’s not for everything though. You can’t bring expensive money claims or disputes over things such as land, or other issues where you would need the services of a solicitor.   

How where you live affects your claim

There are variations in the process for making a claim through the courts. The most significant difference is the amount you can claim. In England and Wales the maximum is £10,000, in Scotland it’s £5,000 and in Northern Ireland it’s £3,000. 

You can find out more about the process and get started with an online claim in:

Despite these differences the whole point of the court is to make things simple, so you don’t pay lots in fees. 

How does it work? 

The online forms guide you through the process of making a claim. The fees for issuing a claim in the Small Claims Court vary by country too – but you can find calculators online that should give you an idea of what you’d need to pay upfront. It can be as little as £35 but if you’re claiming from £5,000 to £10,000 you could be looking at £455. 

It’s a little more straightforward if you know how much money you are seeking. You’ll be asked to provide details about why you are seeking this sum, what’s happened and what supporting evidence you have. 

Forms can be downloaded or obtained from the courts if you prefer, or if you aren’t sure yet what you want to claim. The process also has the option of mediation – which is definitely worthwhile considering if the option is available for your claim. You can still pursue the case if you are unhappy. 

One of the big differences between the Small Claims Court and other types of legal action (or your expectations) is you can’t recover your costs from the other party even if you win (for example, solicitor’s fees) but you can get back the court fees you’ve spent. On the flip side if you lose, the defendant can’t claim their costs back from you. 

Have I left it too late to make a claim? 

You have six years from the point the dispute occurred (usually when you bought the goods or services you’re complaining about or the incident happened), but there are exceptions. 

For example, you might not realise there’s a problem with something you’ve been sold until much further down the line. If time is ticking on though, don’t hesitate if you intend to pursue the matter. 

Other cases involving solicitors or legal action

For more complex cases you may wish to seek formal legal advice. Use the Find a Solicitor tool to locate a suitably qualified solicitor near you, or go with a firm who has been recommended to you by someone whose judgment you trust. 

Always get a fee quote from a solicitor before you go ahead (they are obliged to provide this under their own regulations). You should also check if you have any insurance policies which offer you free ‘legal protection’ as that might be a way of getting some initial free advice.

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