If you've a consumer or business issue that you've been unable to resolve with informal discussions or negotiation, the next step is usually civil legal action.
As the Claimant in a claim it will cost you time and money to issue court proceedings and there are three 'tracks' which a claim can be allocated to depending on the complexity and value of the matter.
The majority of disputes and subsequent claims fall into the Small Claims Track which is designed for use without the need of a solicitor. However, in reality, the process can be complex with various procedures, dates and correspondence all to be complied with.
But before starting down the path of issuing a claim, you need to have an understanding of how much it may cost to take someone to the small claims court.
Small Claim Court Fees.
Being the Claimant, you will need to the pay fees to the County Court to start and run the claim. These Court Fees are payable at two key stages of the claim and are required in advance, so ensure you have these available prior to starting your claim.
Should your claim be successful, and a judgment be returned in your favour, all the Court Fees you have paid will be added to the amount the Defendant must pay you.
Small claim court fees and limits and can vary across the UK as well as with different types of claims (personal injury, housing disrepair etc). In this guide we'll be referring to the process in England and Wales for Money Claims.
Small Claims Court Issue Fee.
The Issue Fee is required when you first submit your Claim Form to the court and start your claim.
A claim can be submitted with a paper claim form or via the Internet using the Money Claim Online service. The benefit of submitting the claim online is that the Issue Fees are slightly lower, and you won’t have to print and post the documents. You will however need to register for an online account and you can’t use this service if you don’t know the exact amount you are claiming for.
Regardless of which method you use to submit your claim, the Issue Fee will be based on the amount you are claiming or the amount that you are estimating the claim is worth.
Correct as at 1st May 2018, but please see EX50 for full details and latest fees.
If using the online service this fee is payable by credit or debit card prior to submission. If you use a paper claim form, you will need to include a cheque or postal order for the correct fee.
If your claim isn't disputed or defended, then judgment will be awarded in your favour and no other court fees will be payable.
Small Claims Hearing Fee.
If the claim is defended, then the case will need to proceed to a small claim hearing unless an agreement or settlement is reached beforehand. The court will send both parties a proposed allocation to the small claims track along with a Directions Questionnaire.
The Directions Questionnaire will ask you details about your claim in preparation for the hearing, including proposed court location, any expert evidence, witnesses and any hearing dates to avoid.
Once both parties have submitted a Directions Questionnaire, this will lead to an order from the court giving a date for the hearing, exchange of evidence and a date for paying the hearing fee.
As with the Issue Fee, the Hearing Fee will be based on the amount claimed:
Fees correct as at 1st May 2018, but please see EX50 for full details and latest information.
Small Claims Mediation Service Cost.
The Directions Questionnaire will also ask if you agree to your claim being referred to the Small Claims Mediation Service. If both parties agree to this, then a mediation appointment will be organised by telephone and a mediator will attempt to reach a settlement over the course of an hour or so.
The HMCTS Small Claims Mediation Service is free of cost so should be seriously considered as an option. Also, mediation appointments will be available quicker than court hearings and you won't incur the Hearing Fee if the claim is settled at mediation.
If mediation fails, then the claim will proceed to a hearing and the Hearing Fee will become due.
Small Claims Expert Costs.
Depending on your dispute, you may require an expert to provide evidence to support your claim. You will need the court to grant permission to use an expert and if permission is granted you will then need to pay the expert to produce written evidence.
As with court fees, if using an expert has been approved and your claim is successful, the cost of the expert will be recovered from the defendant up to a maximum of £750.
What costs can be recovered in small claims?
If your claim is successful, as well as the court fees and approved expert costs, there may be other items you can claim and recover from the losing party.
There are various rules and limits around what can be claimed so it is always a good idea to get legal advice before starting your claim. Without legal advice then there is a risk you could miss out on recovering costs that you are entitled to claim from the opposing party.
Examples of small claim costs.
Unpaid Invoice or Loan debt of £1,400.00
£70.00 - Online Issue Fee (due when you submit your claim)
Faulty Goods valued at £2,800.00
£105.00 - Online Issue Fee (due when you submit your claim)
Poor Service or Workmanship costing £450.00
£35.00 - Online Issue Fee (due when you submit your claim)
How much does a lawyer cost for the small claims court?
Although the small claims process is designed to be conducted without legal representation, many people still choose to use a solicitor and can recover some of these costs as part of their claim.
The way legal representation costs for small claim are calculated is complex and relates to the claim amount, how the Claim Form is served and the number of Defendants. There are then further costs that can be claimed if judgment is entered which depends on the amount claimed and how the judgment was obtained.
Correct as at 1st May 2018, but please see CPR Part 45 for full details and latest fees.
Therefore, if you choose to use a solicitor for you small claim, you can typically expect to receive around £60.00 to £100.00 awarded towards your legal costs if your claim was successful.
The relatively low legal representative costs that are recoverable in the Small Claims Court is the reason you don't see 'no win no fee' funding being an option when dealing with small claims. So, if you do decide to seek legal help with a claim ensure you look for a law firm offering fixed fee small claims services.
Do I need a solicitor for the small claims court?
While you may not be able to recover all your legal costs as part of your claim, there are still some compelling reasons to consider instructing a solicitor for a small claim.
Firstly (and most importantly) a solicitor will be able to advise you on the law and your prospects of success. Spending money on issuing and attending a court hearing only to have no basis for a claim would be an expensive mistake.
Secondly a solicitor will be an expert on litigation and the court process, ensuring you comply with the relevant directions/deadlines and that your claim is comprehensive. If your claim is significant, missing out or even miscalculating an item such as your interest entitlement can prove costly.
Finally, even if your claim is successful and judgment is awarded in your favour you may still need to enforce that judgment. A lawyer can advise you on the most cost effective and productive enforcement methods that are available.
Should I take someone to the small claims court?
Taking a person or a business to the small claims court isn't free and not without risk. Knowing the potential costs along when fees will require paying is likely to influence your decision on if it is worthwhile process to undertake.
However, if your claim has merit and you can afford the court fees, then many of your costs will be awarded back to you should your small claim be successful.
When you are owed money, hindsight can be a wonderful thing.
All too often in the rush to complete a business transaction or lending money to a friend in need, you won't think to put in place a legally binding agreement that formalises the arrangement beforehand. After all, you have every intention of holding up your end of the deal and so assume the other party will too.
But if payment doesn't happen and your deal starts turning into a dispute over what is owed, you may need to consider what legal avenues are open to you to get your money back.
The success of any legal action will then depend on what evidence you can provide to show that the debt is owed.
Can you take someone to court for owing you money?
Yes, but the 'burden of proof' will be on you as the Claimant to show that the amount you are claiming is due. Court should be your last resort in attempting to recover your money and so you should be confident that you have a strong case, sufficient evidence and follow the set pre-action procedure prior to issuing a claim (e.g. sending a letter before action, attempting mediation etc.)
Ultimately the decision on who owes what will be down to a judge's ruling based on:
Owed money but no contract!
In the absence of a written contract or agreement being in place, there are various other pieces of information that you may be able to secure which can provide evidence that the money is due.
Bounced cheque or returned direct debit
While the use of cheques is diminishing, hundreds of millions of cheques are still issued every year. If your debtor has sent you a cheque that bounced or agreed to a direct debit that has been returned, it is often all the evidence that you need to prove a debt is owed.
In law a cheque is considered a 'promise to pay' and so can be used as a clear admission that money is due.
Most businesses use invoices to request payment so providing copies and proof of them being issued to a customer or supplier will go a long way in proving that a debt is owed, even if they aren’t directly attached to Terms of Business or a contract.
Furthermore, if you provided regular statements of the amounts owed and showing overdue, then these will also be useful evidence.
Evidence of chasing debts
Once a payment is overdue you will have hopefully contacted the person or company to chase the debt.
Emails, letters, texts or messages exchanged on social media (Facebook, Twitter etc.) can all be used to help prove a debt is owed and overdue.
If the other party has responded to you apologising or asking for more time, then this admission will be extremely valuable in proving that they don't dispute that they actually owe the debt. So, it's important that you save or screenshot these messages in the event they are needed.
Loaned money without a contract
Without an I.O.U. or a loan agreement in place, proving that money provided to someone was a loan that needs to be repaid can be difficult. This is because often money given to friends or family is considered a gift and so isn't required to be paid back.
Enforcing a verbal agreement that money is owed will hinge around providing evidence to show that the cash was transferred as a loan along with any repayments e.g.
Witnesses to the arrangement
When little or no documentation exists to prove a debt, having an independent witness to a verbal contract can be invaluable.
For example - with a business transaction, did an employee take the order over the phone, deliver goods or perform a service where payment was verbally agreed with the customer? If money was lent to a friend, was another person present to witness the agreement of how/when they were going to pay you back?
But even if an independent witness isn't available, you as a claimant can also present your version of events to the court in a written witness statement. Any witnesses may then need to attend court should the claim go all the way to a hearing.
Debt disputes with no contract
Without a written agreement, there should still be plenty of information that you can pull together to prove what you are owed. However, if the other party disputes the amount, or that any debt is owed at all, then you may have a fight on your hands that needs to be settled in court.
It will then be down to the evidence you can gather and how your claim is pleaded to convince a judge that you are entitled to the money owed in the absence of a legally binding written contract. So, obtaining legal advice on the evidence needed for a debt recovery claim and your prospects should be your starting point.
Investigating a disciplinary or grievance incident is a critical and often sensitive task for a manager. The findings of a fair and comprehensive investigation will be the cornerstone in deciding if any further action needs to be taken against an employee, so shouldn't be underestimated.
An inadequate, or worse still, no investigation can expose a business to a variety of risks including employment tribunals and civil actions. In extreme cases the poor handling of an investigation can also result in a workforce developing a lack of confidence in the management of the business as a whole.
While the ACAS Code of Practice on Disciplinary and Grievance Procedures provides a framework for handling workplace issues and establishing the facts by way of an investigation. We wanted to give an overview of the important practical steps to consider should you ever need to conduct a workplace investigation or be in the role of an investigating officer.
What incidents may require an investigation?
Investigation Policies and Procedures
The parameters and process of an internal investigation should ideally be detailed in your business policies or employee handbook, as it's important that all parties involved in the investigation are aware of the procedure and what to expect.
For example, in relation to an employee complaint, your company Grievance Policy may advise:
For most employees it will be daunting to be involved in, or the subject of, an investigation, so having the process mapped out in your company policies will help clarify the process and let them know what to expect.
Ensure an Impartial Investigation
Wherever possible the person tasked with conducting the investigation should not have been involved with the issue being investigated. The investigating officer's role is that of a fact-finder, and when selecting an investigator, it should be someone who can collect the relevant evidence without the burden of having previous knowledge of the issue.
An employee, manager or supervisor without prior knowledge of the issue can be difficult to select in smaller businesses. So, in these cases the priority should be selecting an individual that was not directly involved in the issue and who will not be involved in any decision making on future stage (formal hearings, appeals etc.).
Once selected and briefed, the investigator should then be left to consider what information needs to be obtained to gain a full understanding of the issue and what has occurred.
Conducting an Investigation Interview
Once the investigating officer has an idea of who they wish to interview they should invite them to a meeting as soon as possible. If practical, it will be helpful to also have an independent notetaker in the interview whose only role is to record what is discussed at the meeting. Often this will be a representative from HR, but any individual who is able to take confidential notes will allow the investigator to concentrate on their questions and the interviewee's responses.
The notes of the interview should be recorded in a standard format and having a workplace investigation interview template prepared which can also be signed by the interviewee will certainly assist this. For the investigation interview itself it's recommended that you:
Whilst evidence can be obtained from various sources, witness interviews are usually the most important source of information for the investigation. Therefore, preparation into the order of interviewees and questions that need to be asked will pay dividends.
Writing an Investigation Report
Once the evidence gathering has concluded, the investigating officer should compile their findings into a written document that can be securely shared with all the parties involved. Again, it will be helpful to use an investigation report template which includes all the major sections.
The report should detail all the evidence complied, the facts that have been established, and any information that couldn’t be confirmed or remains uncertain. While the report itself doesn’t need to restate word-for-word every piece of evidence gathered, it should at least record what has been collected and ideally summarise or quote relevant portions.
Finally, the investigating officer needs to make a recommendation based on their findings. This recommendation should be solely based on conclusions drawn from the investigation they have conducted and be clear from the report how they have been reached. Depending on the company’s disciplinary policy the recommendation of the report may be:
Most importantly if the investigator does recommend formal action, they should not then proceed to suggest sanctions or in any way prejudge what a disciplinary or grievance hearing may find.
Once the investigation process has been completed, you may like to follow up the outcomes and gauge the effect that the recommended actions have had on those involved. If the recommendations have resulted in a positive improvement, other proactive actions may be able to be taken which will anticipate and spot behaviours before they become problems.
Catalyst Law are team of legal professionals with over 20 years' experience helping businesses and people with their legal problems.
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