In what situations can a consumer make a claim?
The main types of consumer claim involve:
Faulty services - compensation may be sought if services have been carried out to an insufficient standard (eg a garage has not properly serviced a car) or if damage has been caused in the course of a service (eg builders have damaged a property during renovation)
Faulty goods - compensation may be claimed where goods are not of satisfactory quality and fit for purpose, or if they cause injury as a result of a fault
The Consumer Rights Act also tightened up consumer rights relating to disputes between landlords and tenants, specifically in regard to any unfair terms included in tenancy agreements.
What to consider before making a claim
Consumers should generally first attempt to resolve issues by raising a complaint with the company. It will often be in the best interests of the business to provide redress (including compensation if appropriate) rather than face court action. If this does not work, it may be worth contacting any regulatory body (eg Trading Standards) or an ombudsman (eg the Consumer Ombudsman) before going to the small claims court.
How is a claim made?
Claims can be made online using the government’s Money Claim Online service. The claim must be for a fixed amount less than £100,000; the claim must be against no more than two people or organisations; and the claim must be made against someone with an address in England or Wales.
For more information about the government’s Money Claim Online Service, you can read our guide Issuing a money claim.
Alternatively, or for claims without an unspecified amount, consumers can go to the small claims court. Form N1 needs to be completed and sent to the County Court Money Claims Centre, PO Box 527, Salford, M5 0BY.
In either case, court fees must also be paid - see GOV.UK for the full range of up to date fees.
What is the process after making a claim?
Claims must receive a response from the person or business owing money (defendant) within 14 days of receipt. There are then three possibilities:
Satisfactory payment is received - this should be acknowledged and the court updated
No response - if the defendant does not respond, a further request can be made for the court to order payment (see GOV.UK for the relevant forms)
Unsatisfactory response - if the defendant refuses to pay or disagrees with the amount, the claim may need to proceed to a court hearing. In this case an extra court fee will be required. For claims under £10,000, the court will offer their small claims mediation service
How does the hearing proceed?
Relatively straightforward cases sometimes do not require attendance and consumers can request that the court deals with their claim in their absence. Otherwise, both sides should turn up at court to set out their arguments on the day of the hearing. Consumers can represent themselves, pay a lawyer to represent them, ask for someone else (not necessarily a lawyer) to advise them in court or speak on their behalf (the latter may require permission from the court).
The court will generally make a decision on the day of the hearing and order the defendant to pay any relevant money owing. The decision can be appealed within 21 days.
How is a judgment enforced?
If a defendant does not comply with a court order for payment relating to a small claim, there are various options available for enforcing the judgment:
finding out what the debtor can afford
deducting money from wages
freezing assets or money in an account
charging land or property
To find out more about these options, including relevant fees, see GOV.UK.
Can I enforce a judgment on an overseas debtor?
If a defendant has gone abroad you can still sue them in the English & Welsh courts for money they owe.
For a claim to be worthwhile, the claimant needs to address two issues:
Serving the defendant with the papers; and
Actually getting the money from them.
Serving the papers
The claimant must prove to the court that they have served the papers on the defendant before the court will deal with the claim. Although the court normally serves claims, it will only do this for defendants in England and Wales.
For defendants who reside outside of England/Wales, claimants therefore need to do one of two things:
Get leave of the court to serve them ‘out of the jurisdiction’; or
Get leave to serve someone in England or Wales who will forward the papers on to the defendant. The claimant must prove this has happened. This is known as getting an order for substituted service.
It is also possible to enforce an English or Welsh judgement ‘out of the jurisdiction’ i.e. abroad, but it is not easy. There are specialist companies that can do this but it is only really worth it for very large debts.
Small claims, fast track and multi track claims
Claims are allocated to different types of courts in order to make the best use of available resources. These are the Small claims track, Fast track and the Multi track.
Small claims track
If the case concerns debt that is below £10,000, it will most likely be allocated to the small claims track. These types of claims are generally much more simple to deal with and therefore are usually heard by a court within six months.
It’s often cheaper for a claim to be processed on the small claims track as there is no need for the formalities of a traditional trial. Only limited costs can be recovered in small claims proceedings.
As the rules and procedures are less formal, it’s generally easier to represent yourself in the small claims court as a litigant in person. For more information you can read our legal guide, Representing yourself in court.
Fast track and Multi track
Fast track is where claims between £10,000 and £25,000 are heard. The hearing can only last for one day, and usually, it takes up to a year to reach it. These claims are generally too complex for the Small claims track but they don’t require the extra formalities of the Multi track procedure. Even though the Fast track procedure is generally more complex, you can still represent yourself in court as a litigant in person.
Multi Track is for claims for greater than £25,000. Usually, the hearing lasts for more than a day. For example, depending on the complexity of the case, it can take anywhere between one and two years to even reach a court hearing.
Before being allocated to any track, the court will always encourage the parties to settle outside of court.