Making a small claim
Before you start your small claim it's a good idea to write a formal letter to the person or business you disagree with - they’re called the ‘defendant’. This is called a 'letter before claim' or a 'letter before action'.
You'll need to do this even if you've already written to them to complain. If the letter before claim doesn't resolve the problem, you can start your small claim by filling in a form.
Write a letter before claim
Write ‘Letter before claim’ at the start of your letter to show this is a formal letter.
If you’re complaining about faulty goods, you can use our template to write your letter before claim.
Your letter should include:
- your name and address
- a summary of what’s happened
- what you want the person or business to do about it
- how much money you want - like the cost of repair or a replacement - and how you’ve calculated that amount
- a deadline for reply - usually 14 days
- that you’ll start court proceedings if you don’t get a reply
You should also say that you and the defendant both have to follow the court’s rules on what to do.
Say: ‘I refer you to the Practice Direction on pre-action conduct under the Civil Procedure Rules, and in particular to paragraphs 13-16 which set out the sanctions the court may impose if you fail to comply with the Practice Direction.’
Make sure you check what the court rules are - you can check our advice if you have a consumer problem. If you have a different type of problem, talk to an adviser at your nearest Citizens Advice - they can explain the rules for you.
You can check our advice on using alternative dispute resolution to solve consumer problems. If you have a different type of problem, you can get advice on mediation from the Civil Mediation Council.
Keep a copy of the letter and ask the Post Office for proof of postage - you might need to show when you sent your letter.
The other person or business usually has to reply to your letter within 14 days. It could be longer if the matter is complicated.
If they don’t agree with your claim, they should say:
- the reasons why and which facts they don’t agree with
- if they’re planning to make a claim of their own (a ‘counterclaim’)
If the other person or business makes a counterclaim, check the facts they’re relying on and make a note of anything you disagree with. Also try to find evidence to prove they’re wrong. For example, if you told your landlord about repairs but they ignored you and claim you damaged your home, find proof of when you told them.
Filling in the claim form
If you don’t get a reply or you’re not satisfied with it, you can start your small claim.
You can either:
download and print a claim form to send by post - this is called the ‘N1 claim form’
make a claim online - if you know exactly how much you want to claim
You can’t make an online claim if you’re on a low income and qualify for reduced fees. Check if you can get lower fees on GOV.UK.
Making a claim online
You can use the Money Claims service to make a small claim if:
- you’re claiming less than £10,000
- you’re over 18 or your claim is against someone who’s over 18
- you have an address in the UK
- you’re not making a claim under the Consumer Credit Act 1974
- you’re not making a claim for personal injury
- you’re not making a claim for a tenancy deposit
To use Money Claims, you need to know how much you’re claiming, why you’re owed it, what happened when and if you want to claim interest.
Money Claims is part of the HM Courts and Tribunals Service.
If you need help with Money Claims
Contact Money Claims. You’ll need your case or claim number. They can’t give legal advice.
If you can't use Money Claims
You can try using Money Claim Online (MCOL).
You can make a claim using MCOL if:
- you’re over 18
- you want to make a claim against someone who’s over 18
- you don’t need help with court fees
- you’re not making a claim for compensation for an accident or an injury
You can use MCOL to make claims against 1 or 2 people.
If you need help with MCOL
First check the MCOL guidance .
If you can’t find the answer to your question, you can call the MCOL helpline. You'll need to give them your case or claim number.
MCOL helpline: 0300 123 1057 or 01604 619 402
Monday to Friday, 8:45am to 5pm
Closed bank holidays
The helpline can only advise on the process - they can’t give legal advice.
If you’re under 18 or making a claim against someone who’s under 18
You have to use the paper N1 form.
If you’re under 18 and making a claim yourself, write ‘(a child)’ after your name. If someone else is making the claim for you, write ‘(a child by [name of person making the claim] their litigation friend)’.
If you need help with N1 claim form
Contact the County Court Money Claims Centre. You’ll need your case reference. They can’t give you legal advice.
County Court Money Claims Centre
Telephone: 0300 123 1372
Monday to Friday, 8.30am to 5pm
Calls usually cost up to 40p a minute from mobiles and up to 10p a minute from landlines. It should be free from your mobile if you have a contract that includes calls to landlines - check with your supplier if you’re not sure.
Working out how much to claim on the N1 form or MCOL
You’ll need to include the amount you’re claiming - write it in the ‘Value’ section of the form.
If you’re claiming a specific amount like what you had to pay to replace a faulty product, put that amount. It’s called a fixed or ‘specified’ amount.
If you don’t know the exact amount you want to claim but know it’s less than a certain amount, you should say so. For example, if you know your claim will be for less than £5,000, say: ‘I expect to recover no more than £5,000’.
Don’t say you expect to recover any more than £10,000 - if you do, your case won’t be treated as a small claim.
If you’re making a claim for something your landlord hasn’t repaired, the maximum amount you can get in a small claims case is £1,000. In this situation you’d need to say: ‘I expect to recover no more than £1,000’.
You can also claim the fixed costs of a solicitor filling in the form and sending it to the court for you - you can’t claim any other legal costs.
You should include a claim for interest in the ‘Value’ section - check how to calculate interest on GOV.UK. Use the following wording to claim interest: ‘The claimant claims interest under Section 69 of the County Courts Act 1984 at the rate of 8 per cent a year.’
You must sign the form. If you’re completing the form online, type your name into the ‘signature’ box.
Sending the form and paying the fee
How you pay the fee depends on the way you made your claim.
If you used Money Claims
Money Claims automatically adds the fee to your claim. Once the court has processed your claim, it will be shown as a PDF which you can save or print. You can access it at any time by going into your account.
If you used MCOL
MCOL will calculate the correct fee for you based on how much you’re claiming. You’ll be asked for your credit or debit card details.
Enter your email address if you want a receipt.
You can download a copy of your filled in claim form.
If you used the paper N1 form
Keep a copy of your form and make one copy for the court and one for each defendant. The address to send your form to is different depending on whether you’re claiming just for money or for something else, like repairs.
If you’re only claiming a sum of money, send the original and the copies for the court and the defendants to:
County Court Money Claims Centre
PO Box 527
If you filled in a paper form and are claiming money and anything else - like an order that repairs be done - send it to your local county court. Find your local county court.
You can pay by postal order or cheque made payable to ‘HM Courts and Tribunals Service’. Find out how to send a postal order.
Dealing with the defendant’s response
The court will send a copy of your claim form to the defendant. If you made your claim on a paper form or through MCOL, the defendant must tell you they’ve received your claim within 14 days either by sending a reply or a form called an ‘acknowledgement of service’.
If they send you an acknowledgement of service, they have 28 days to send you a reply. The 28 days start from when they receive the details of your claim.
If you used Money Claims, the defendant has 19 days from the day the claim is made. If they need longer, they must tell the court. The most they can have is 33 days.
The defendant doesn’t reply
The court can decide you’ve won because the defendant didn’t reply. Ask the court for ‘judgment by default’. You can ask for a judgment by default by:
- requesting a judgment on Money Claim Online if you made your claim online
- filling in form N225 if you claimed a fixed (‘specified’) amount
- filling in form N227 if you claimed an ‘unspecified’ amount
If you used Money Claims, you can also use it to request a judgment by default if the defendant hasn’t replied and the deadline for their reply has passed.
The defendant agrees with some or all of your claim
The defendant might offer to give you some or all of the money you asked for.
The court will let you know about the defendant’s offer and explain how to accept it.
The defendant disagrees with your claim
This is called ‘defending the claim’. They must explain why they disagree with your claim in a document called their ‘defence’. They must usually send their defence to the court within 14 days of receiving your claim (or 28 days if they sent you an acknowledgement of service). The court will send you a copy.
If you used Money Claims, they have 19 days from when you made the claim - or 33 days if the court has given them more time.
The court will send you a form to help them decide when the hearing should be. This is called a ‘directions questionnaire’. Use it to let them know about dates you’re busy, like holidays or hospital appointments. Make sure you send it back on time.
You should also say if you want the hearing to be at a specific county court, for example because you or one of your witnesses has a disability. Find your nearest county court. Normally, the hearing will be at the defendant’s nearest county court but the judge will consider moving it if there’s a good reason to.
There might not be a hearing if you and the defendant agree that the court can decide the claim without one. In this case, the judge will make a decision based on your claim and the defendant’s defence and neither of you will have to go to court or give further evidence.
Using small claims mediation
The court will ask if you want to use its free mediation service to try to resolve your dispute. A person - called a mediator - will try to help you and the defendant reach an agreement. They won’t take sides. The mediation might be done by phone.
If you want to use this service, say so on the directions questionnaire.
It’s a good idea to try mediation because it could save you time and money - if you and the defendant can agree, you won’t have to go to a hearing or pay the hearing fee.
If you can’t agree, the court hearing can still go ahead.
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