This article covers the foundations of how to recover debt in the small claims court in the U.K.
Small claims are a quick and practical solution to make a debt claim against an individual or a company. In principle, a debt claim is handled at the small claims court if it is a simple case. The procedure is designed to guarantee a quick resolution in front of a county court judge. Most creditors and debtors don’t need a lawyer or additional legal representation when the case goes to small claims court.
You can make a small claim for a debt under £10,000 in the UK, although the exact amount varies by country. What makes small claims especially popular is that they can be started by filling in a money claim form online. For individuals who seek a quick resolution for an unpaid debt, the online service offers convenience and fast pace. You will, however, need two things to be able to recover your debt in the small claims court:
- The address of your debtor, which is where our debtor tracing service can help.
- An understanding of how the small claims court works.
What can you use your debt claim for?
First of all, it’s essential to understand who can fill a debt claim on the Money Claim Online service. Alternatively, if you don’t want to use the online service, you can also deliver your complete small claim form (Form N1) to the County Court you wish to use.
In England and Wales, a debt claim of under £10,000 is eligible to the small claims court track. In Scotland, the debt will need to be under £5,000. In Northern Ireland, you cannot make a debt claim of £3,000 or over.
Up to £10,000 in England & Wales
You can make a debt claim for a breach of contract in which you are due compensation for the following reasons, as long as the compensation due is under the maximum amount:
- Compensation for faulty services from either a company or an individual.
- Compensation faulty goods from a company or an individual.
- Dispute between landlords & tenants: This can include damage compensation for failure to do necessary repairs, unpaid rents, etc.
- Wages owned, for independent professionals and freelancers who are still awaiting payments for their services.
- Personal injury when the claim for damage is no more than £1,000.
It is worth noting, however, that some claims are not eligible for the county court money claims. Making sure your debt claim is eligible is detrimental to the recovery of your loss.
Indeed, you can’t claim compensation for personal injury is the overall value is over £10,000, and the claim for damage for your injury is over £1,000.
Residential tenants can’t use the small claims court against their landlords for repairs that have not been made when the estimated cost of repairs would be over £1,000.
Finally, intellectual property claims of any value are not handled by the small claims court.
Avoid being penalised with your debt claim
Typically, a small claim is perceived as a last resort. The small claims court judge expects you to have previously tried to recover the debt via other means before resorting to taking the case to court. You will, therefore, need to provide evidence of previous communication with the debtor and actions taken. A judge may choose to penalise your debt claim if there has been no other effort made to recover the amount you are owed.
When you have recovered the contact details of your debtor, you can approach them with a complaint letter, stating your position and requesting resolution of the outstanding or perceived debt. Ideally, the letter of complaint should set up a time limit to allow the other party to reply. It’s only when your first contact doesn’t meet the expected resolution that you can move to the next step and warn your debtor that you are ready to take court action.
There are two advantages to engaging in an exchange before progressing to the small claims court. You can use it as evidence that you’ve tried to sort out the issue between yourselves, which is likely to go in your favour. Additionally, you’d be surprised to know that some debtors can be encouraged to pay the debt off to avoid the small claims court.
You should also ensure that your debt claim is suitable for the small claims court. If your claim isn’t genuine or the information you provided isn’t accurate, the judge is unlikely to rule in your favour. Additionally, debt claims can only be made within a set period of time. For a debt claim in England, you have up to 6 years after the event to claim money. In Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales, you have 5 years.
Can you afford the small claims court?
Making a debt claim to the small claims court comes at a cost. You may want to consider that you are happy with the cost of the claim before you proceed. You will have to pay upfront. However, if the judge rules in your favour, you will get the court fees back as well as the debt that is owed to you. There are free alternatives that can settle the debt, which we will discuss later. But, if you wish to carry on with a small claim, you have to be realistic about the financial side of it.
There’s an initial claim fee that needs to be paid to start the claim. You will pay that fee either online or at the county court if you choose to deliver a paper form. The fee depends on the amount of money in your debt claim, as well as whether you choose the online or paper form.
You will also pay for court allocation fees, £40, if the claim is over £1,500. Not all claims need to go to courts, so it isn’t always a necessary cost. For cases that go to the small claims court, hearing fees of up to £325 are also added to your expenses and can vary depending on a case-by-case basis.
|Amount in your debt claim||Fee for paper form||Fee for online form|
|Up to £300||£35||£25|
|£300.01 – £500||£50||£35|
|£500,01 – £1,000||£70||£60|
|£1,000.01 – £1,500||£80||£70|
|£1,500.01 – £3,000||£115||£105|
|£3,000.01 – £5,000||£205||£185|
|£5,000.01 – £10,000||£455||£410|
Individuals on benefits or with a low income can request an exemption from the small claim fees. If you win the case, you will, therefore, not get those fees back. However, if you lose, you will have to pay for the defendant’s fees and small claims court’s expenses, regardless of your financial situation. Court’s and procedure expenses that can be claimed by the winning party are the following:
- Cost of hearing
- Loss of earning at £90/day, travel expenses and witness’s costs
- Additional £750 is awarded if the judge allows one of the parties to provide expert evidence, such as requesting an expert report on a faulty item.
What’s your best chance to recover the debt?
In some occasions, the threat of using the small claims court is enough to pressure companies or individuals into respecting your consumer rights and paying off the debt. Additionally, some debts can also be recovered by default when the debtor agrees to the debt claim rather than pursue it to court when you deliver them the form.
But you should always prepare your debt claim thoroughly as if it were going to be taken to the county court small claim division. You need to gather all information and evidence ahead of filing the form.
- Record evidence and documents in the date order of your communication, reception of goods or services, and all relevant materials including previous letters to settle the matter with the debtor.
- Bring damage evidence, through photo or by providing the item in court, as well as proof of the incurred expenses.
- If you have witnesses to back up your claims, you should make mention of them and take them to court with you.
You can make your debt claim online by filling the relevant form:
- Particular of Claims in England and Wales on the Money Claim Online service
- Scotland uses the Simple Procedure Claim
- In Northern Ireland, it is called small claims
The form should provide all information regarding the debt claim, your debtor, and yourself, as well as evidence that you have been wronged:
- Statement with full detail of your side of the story and your debt claim
- Provides yours and defendant’s details
- Submit attached elements such as written agreement
Alternatively, you can print out the Form N1 and deliver to the county court of your choice.
Recover the debt after or before small claims court
You can recover the debt before going to the small claims court: via mediation, which is included in your small claim fees, or via Ombudsman or Watchdogs, both of which provide free services to protect consumers’ rights.
If your case was taken to the county court and you’ve been awarded payment, you can recover the debt owed in many ways:
- The debtor agrees and pays the money directly to you.
Second scenario: You have not received payment within the agreed terms. You can enforce a county court judgment:
- Get the money deducted from their wages for debt against one individual, using the attachment of earnings order (Form N337).
- Freeze assets or money in a business or individual account, using a third party debt order (Form N349).
- Ask the court to send bailiffs to seize goods to the value of the debt. You’ll need to file in a warrant of execution (Form N323) or use the money claim platform.
- Charge the person’s land or property (Form N379), which prevents them from selling without paying what they owe you.
In conclusion, you can use the small claims court in the UK to recover a debt under £10,000. While it is a process that doesn’t require solicitors, it does need thorough preparation and evidence gathering to be successful. The Find UK People services can provide support in tracing debtors or any person prior to issue of proceedings. However, for assistance with the small claims procedure, we recommend the Citizen Advice Bureau or to seek professional legal advice.
Read about how Covid-19 has affected debt recovery in the UK