This section will give you an overview of how the small claims track works.
The small claims track procedure (generally for claims of less than £5,000) is less formal and is designed to be used without legal representation. Find out more about which track is appropriate for your claim. See the previous step, Allocating a claim to the right track.
Before the hearing
If your case is allocated to the small claims track, you will be sent form N157. This will tell you what you must do to prepare for the final hearing (these instructions are called ‘directions’). For example, you may have to send copies of all the documents you intend to use to prove your case to the court and the defendant 14 days before the hearing is due to take place. The form will also usually tell you the time, date and place when your hearing will take place and how much time has been allowed for it.
The judge could decide to hold a preliminary hearing – for example, if he or she feels that you, or the defendant, has no real prospect of winning or defending the claim and wants to dispose of the claim as soon as possible.
The judge could propose that your claim be dealt with without a hearing. If you, or the defendant, object to this, there will be a hearing.
What happens at the hearing?
Small claims hearings are generally ‘public’ hearings, which members of the public can sit in on. The judge decides how to carry out the hearing. Normally, the judge will first want to hear what you have to say and then hear the defendant’s reply. The judge may ask questions to you, the defendant and any witnesses. You may be given a chance to question the defendant or their witnesses, or you can ask the judge to ask questions for you.
At the end of the hearing, the judge will tell you the decision reached (the judgment) and give brief reasons for this. You should make a note of the decision and reasons in case you later wish to seek advice on whether you could appeal against the decision. If the court has mechanically recorded the decision, you can get a copy of the transcript by paying the transcriber’s fee. You are not allowed to make your own recording. After the hearing, the court will send you an order setting out the judgment.
You can take someone with you to the hearing for moral support, or a solicitor or lay representative to speak for you. A lay representative can be anyone you choose. You will have to pay the fee of any representative yourself, even if you win the case.
In the small claims track, you must pay court fees unless you are entitled to fee exemption or you can show that paying the fee would cause undue hardship because of the exceptional circumstances of your case.
You must pay a fee to start your case and a fee to accompany the allocation questionnaire. You do not have to pay a fee for the hearing. If you call witnesses, you may have to pay their travelling and overnight expenses and loss of earnings. You may incur further court fees if you need to make other applications to the court, such as to enforce a judgment.
If you decide to get professional advice or representation, you will usually have to pay the fees yourself, even if you win the case. Make sure you are clear on the arrangements for fees you have with your representative before the hearing.
If you win the case, the defendant will have to pay your court fees as well as any damages. The judge can also order the defendant to pay towards the travelling and overnight expenses and loss of earnings of you and your witnesses on the hearing date (there are maximum amounts which apply).
If you lose the case, you may have to pay the travelling and overnight expenses and loss of earnings of the defendant and their witnesses on the hearing date. You will not normally have to pay legal fees incurred by the defendant, unless the court considers you have acted unreasonably. Equally, the defendant will not usually be required to pay any legal fees that you have incurred, unless it has acted unreasonably.
If a claim for more than £5,000 was dealt with under the small claims track with both parties’ agreement, the winning party will normally be able to recover some of their costs, including solicitor’s fees, from the losing party.