You can use the Small Claims Court to take legal action against someone if you are claiming less than £3000. You don't need a solicitor to go to Small Claims Court so the costs are much lower than the costs for other types of legal action. Landlords and tenants could end up in the Small Claims Court if there is a dispute over deposits or unpaid rent. You can't use this court for claims about personal injuries.
Before going to court
You need to try to resolve the problem yourself before going to court. You should write to the person you're threatening with Small Claims, setting out your argument and asking for a response. If you don't get a response, or the response doesn't resolve the problem, you should write again explaining that you feel you have no option but to try to solve the matter in Small Claims Court.
The Court Service has published a useful guide on the Small Claims Process which explains the steps the court expects you to have taken before you bring a case in front of the court.
Fees for using Small Claims Court
You will have to pay a fee to use the Small Claims Court. The amount you'll pay depends on how much you are suing for. The fees are
- £30 for claims of £300 or less
- £50 for claims between £300 and £500
- £70 for claims between £500 and £1000
- £100 for claims over £1000
- £150 to lodge an appeal
Some people are exempt from paying court fees. You may not have to pay fees or you may have your fees reduced or returned to you if you
- receive income based job seekers allowance
- receive income support
- receive the guarantee element of pension credit
- receive working tax credits and you meet certain other conditions
- can show that paying the fee would cause financial hardship
- receive income related Employment and Support Allowance
You need to complete form ER1 if you think that you should be exempt from paying fees. Once you've completed the form send it, and proof of your income or the benefits you're receiving, to the courts along with your Small Claims application. You can get a useful leaflet from the NI Court Service explaining what you should do if you think you shouldn't have to pay a fee or should have your fees returned to you.
Applying to court
You need to apply using the correct form. You can get the forms you need on the Court Service's website. Gather up any evidence you have that supports your claim. This could include letters or emails, receipts for payment or copies of your tenancy agreement.
You'll need to enter the details of the person you're taking action against, including their home address. If the person lives outside Northern Ireland there is a special process you'll need to follow, which is explained in the Court Serice's guide to small claims.
When you're completing the form, state the facts of the case simply and clearly. You need to explain how much money you are claiming for and break this down into the amount you're claiming for, the interest, if any, that you are owed on this amount and the court fee you have paid.
You need to bring the completed form, 2 further copies of the completed form, your evidence and the application fee, or your application for fee exemption, to a civil processing centre.
When the court receives the form, staff will check if the claim is liquidated or unliquidated. A liquidated claim is one that is asking for a set amount of money, such as one month's rent. An unliquidated claim is one where an estimated value is asked for, such as damage to a property. Staff will check that the form has been completed correctly and the correct fee is enclosed. If it has, court staff will send you an Applicant.s Information Pack, which explains what you must do to get a court decree if the person you are suing fails to respond by a specified date.
Responding to the court
If someone else is taking you to Small Claims Court the court will send you a copy of the completed application form and a Respondent's Information Pack. This pack will explain what you need to do to respond to the claim. At this point you can
- settle the claim with the person who is taking action against you
- admit that you are liable and pay the full amount
- dispute that you are liable or
- submit a counter claim.
Talk to an advice agency if someone is taking you to Small Claims Court. Orders made in Small Claims Court are County Court Judgments and can have a serious impact on your credit rating.
Going to Small Claims Court
When everyone has been heard the judge will usually make a decision based on the facts of the case. The court can decide that your claim was successful and issue a decree requiring that the other party pay you an amount , decided by the judge, and your court fee.
The court may dismiss your claim, in which case you won't get your court fee back. The judge could also find in favour of the other person if they issued a counterclaim and you may be ordered to pay money to this person, including the cost of their court fees.
Getting your money
The court won't give you your money. It will order the other person to do so. The money should be paid within 14 to 28 days of the order being made. If that person doesn't comply with the order you might have to go to another court to have the order enforced. The Court Service's guide to Small Claims explains this process in more detail and contains contact numbers of local court offices that may be able to help answer any questions you have about making a claim.