What is a small claims court?
If you owe someone money they might take you to court to get it back. If you owe them less than £5,000, they’ll start proceedings at the small claims section of the county court, known as the “small claims court” (in England and Wales; separate procedures and amounts apply in Scotland and Northern Ireland).
The sort of cases heard at the small claims court usually include landlord/tenant disputes about rent or deposits, disputes between tradesmen and customers and wages owed or money in lieu of notice.
The first thing you’ll probably know about the court action is when you receive some documents in the post. This will include a claim form that should be stamped by the court. It will also have a claim number on it that you’ll need to quote on all correspondence with the court.
On the claim form, there will be brief details of the claim and how much the other person is claiming you owe them. There might be fuller details of the claim, either on the claim form or in a separate document attached.
The court will also send you a response pack. This will include
- A defence form – to use if you think you don’t owe them the money.
- An admission form – to use if you accept you do owe them money.
- An acknowledgement of service form – to use to confirm that you got the documents
Replying to the court
When you get the claim form it might be a good idea to talk to the person who brought the claim and try and reach an agreement with them without going to court. If you do reach an agreement get it in writing and tell the court.
Otherwise you’ll have 14 days to reply to the court. You’ll need to fill in and send back the acknowledgement of service form and one of the other two forms depending on your case. You might be able to do this online at moneyclaim.gov.uk. If so, the response pack will contain your password. Make sure you reply to the court otherwise you might have to pay back all the money claimed, whether you owe it or not, plus court fees on top.
What happens if you disagree with the claim?
If you disagree with the claim fill in the acknowledgement of service form and the defence form and send them back to the court. In some cases you can do this online. The case then becomes a “defended case”. You’ll then be sent further court papers.
If the court eventually decides you owe the money a court order or “county court judgement” (CCJ) will be made against you. You should pay this as soon as possible. Otherwise the other party can send bailiffs round to take your possessions away – you’ll have to pay the costs of this so your debt will get bigger. A CCJ will also affect whether you can get credit, such as a mortgage or mobile phone contract, in the future.
What happens if you accept you owe the money?
If you accept that you do owe the money claimed you’ll need to fill in the admission form. If you accept you owe all the money claimed, you have to send the form back to the person you owe the money to. You can request that you pay off the debt in instalments and the court will decide whether the payment plan you suggest is fair. If you don’t make any offer the person you owe the money to will decide when you should pay the money.
A CCJ will be made against you, but if you pay the money within a month the CCJ won’t be recorded on your credit file.
What happens if you accept that you owe some of the money but not all of it?
In some situations you might owe some money to the other person but not the full amount claimed. If this is the case you need to fill in both the admission and defence forms with details of what you do and don’t accept you owe and send the forms, together with the acknowledgement of service form, to the court.
The court will tell you what steps you must take about the part of the claim that you don’t agree with. Meanwhile you must arrange to pay the debt you do agree with. You can ask the other person if you can pay in instalments. If they don’t accept your offer the court will decide what’s fair.
Thanks to CAB for their help with the article.
Photo of cash by Shutterstock
By Emma Lunn
Updated on 25-Sep-2012