If you are unable to settle your dispute any other way, you may decide to issue a claim through the small claims, county court or high court depending on the value of the claim. You can issue a claim for a variety of reasons:
Even though you might choose to go to court rather than use an alternative dispute resolution process, issuing a claim should always be your last resort. The court will expect you to have acted reasonably, such as by exchanging information and relevant documents about the dispute and to generally try to avoid the need for making a claim. For example, if you are owed money, you should write a letter to the person who owes it. Say how much they owe and what it is for, and what steps you have already taken to recover the money. You should also give them a final date for payment. Include a warning that you will issue proceedings in either the small claims, county court or high court if they do not pay by the date you give. Sometimes this warning will encourage them to pay and you will not have to go to court. Keep a copy of your letter and any reply.
It is important to consider whether the person, firm or company you are claiming from is likely to be able to pay. If they are any of the following, the court may not be able to help you get your money:
However, you may be able to get your money if you are prepared to accept small instalments over a period of time.
If the person or company is bankrupt, you will probably not get your money! You should contact the Insolvency Service at Fermanagh House, Ormeau Avenue, Belfast, BT12 8NJ (telephone: 028 9025 1441) to find out whether the person you're claiming against is insolvent. You need to tell them the full name of the person or company and their last address. They will tell you if the person is bankrupt, or if the company is in 'compulsory liquidation', which means that the company has stopped trading and probably has neither money nor other assets.
If the person you are claiming from has already been taken to court by others, and has not paid, you may also have little chance of getting your money! You can find out if a person, firm or company at a particular address has any unpaid court orders (called 'judgments'), by contacting. You will have to pay a fee to search for each name you are interested in.
Remember, even if you win your case, the court does not guarantee that you will be able to get the money you are owed.
You will usually need to pay a fee to start your claim. The level of the fee will depend on the amount you are claiming. If the defendant does not pay once you have judgment, or says the money is not owed and your claim proceeds as a 'defended' (disputed) case, you may have to pay further fees. If you win your case, the fees may be added to the amount the defendant owes you. You may also be allowed some costs to compensate you for time lost at work. But this will not necessarily cover the total amount you have lost.
For more information see our section on ''.
If the person you are suing (the 'defendant') defends your claim, you may need witnesses to help tell the court what happened. You may have to pay their costs, that is, their travelling expenses to and from the court and the money they would have earned that day; although, if you win, the court may tell the defendant to pay towards those expenses.
You may also need to obtain a report from an expert, for example, a doctor, mechanic or surveyor. You may also need to ask this expert to come to a court hearing to give evidence on your behalf. You will have to pay experts' expenses and charges. But, if you win, the court may tell the defendant to pay towards these.
If your claim is for a fixed amount of money (a 'specified amount'), and the defendant is an individual who defends your claim, your claim may be transferred to the defendant's local court. This may mean you having to travel some distance for any hearing which takes place. But, if you win the case, you may be able to claim your travel costs and something towards your lost earnings for that day.
If English is not your first language and you need an interpreter, the court will not be able to help you find one. You will have to do this yourself and also have to pay any fees the interpreter charges, though is you win your case they may be recoverable, but this is not guaranteed.
If you have a solicitor and your claim is for less than £3,000, you will usually have to pay for his or her help yourself, even if you win your case.
You should also bear in mind that although the court may make a judgment in your favour (this means ordering the defendant to pay you), the court will not automatically take steps to make sure that the money is paid. If the defendant does not pay, you will need to ask the court to take action called 'enforcing your judgment' (), for which you will have to pay a further fee.
Many cases are not defended and the way in which claims for money (especially amounts of £3,000 or less) are dealt with is designed to allow you to do this yourself, with no, or only one, attendance at court. But bear in mind that if your claim is defended you will need to take time to prepare your case. For example, you will have to put together copies of all relevant documents or spend time getting statements from witnesses. You will probably be required to go to a court hearing and, even if you win the case, you may have to spend more time completing forms to enforce your judgment.
As a general rule, if your claim is for a sum over £3,000 and particularly if it includes a claim for compensation ('damages'), it is advisable to seek the advice of a solicitor.
Other types of claims, for example, personal injury claims, can be more complicated and require professional help and advice no matter what the value of your claim is.
Remember that you also have to prove your claim. To do this, you will need to have some understanding of the legal basis for your claim and court procedures and provide evidence, for example, a report from a doctor, or statements from witnesses who saw your accident. You will also need to make a realistic assessment of the amount of damages you are seeking. It may save you time and money to first ask a solicitor or advice worker if it is worth your making a claim.
Obtaining a judgment in the small claims court is a paper exercise, insofar as your case will only be heard if your claim is disputed, or a counterclaim issued or an unacceptable repayment proposal is made by the debtor.
An Application for Arbitration is prepared and is sent to the relevant court or civil processing centre, together with the appropriate court outlay to be processed. Please note that this outlay is added to the debt if your application is successful and judgment awarded.
Your application will be endorsed by the court office with a return date, (usually 3–4 weeks thereafter), and a copy of the endorsed application will be sent to the debtor. You will receive a copy along with an applicant's information pack. The debtor must lodge a dispute/counterclaim or make payment prior to this return date or admit liability and request time to pay or make proposals for payment.
The judgment will be registered against the debtor at the Registry Trust, England and will affect the debtor's ability to obtain credit in the future. If the debtor does not make payment, you may wish to consider enforcement proceedings (see '').
Obtaining a Judgment in the county court can be a paper exercise, unless your claim is disputed.
A civil bill is prepared, and then sent to the civil processing centre, together with a cheque for the court outlay of £155.00 (up to £5,000) or £185 (for anything over £5,000); it will then be stamped by the court and served on the debtor or their solicitor. The debtor has 21 working days after service in which to lodge a Notice of Intention to Defend.
In a contested case, if you are successful, additional professional fees as appear in the county court rules will be added to the debt and may be recoverable from the debtor if recovery is achieved.
Procedure for debts over £15,000
A Writ of Summons may be issued in the High Court for claims for more than £15,000. Again, obtaining a judgment in the High Court can be a paper, exercise unless your claim is disputed.
A Writ of Summons will be prepared by your legal representative, which is sent to the court together with a cheque for £200, in respect of the court outlay. It will then be stamped by the court and your legal representative will serve a copy on the debtor or their solicitor. The debtor has 14 working days after service in which to lodge a Memorandum of Appearance.
In a contested case, if you are successful, recoverable costs as set by the court will be added to the debt and should be recoverable from the debtor, if recovery is achieved. If the debtor doesn't pay, you may wish to consider Enforcement Proceedings (please see our '' section).