How to get your money back or claim compensation using a small claims court, including how the process works and fees you’ll pay
What you need to know about taking a company to court
- You can apply to the court to get compensation or your money back if there has been a breach of contract and you haven’t been able to resolve the problem any other way – including mediation.
- Before you make a claim you should write what is called a ‘letter before action’ to the person you’re claiming from.
- If that fails to resolve the problem, work out how much you think you are owed, including any costs you’ve incurred for putting the problem right.
- The simplest way is to make your claim online, but you need to know how much money you want to claim. Court costs range from £35 and £10,000, depending on the value of your claim.
- If you win your case, the defendant will be ordered by the court to pay you what is owed. This might also include fixed fees like your court costs.
In this guide
Getting back money you’re owed using a small claims court
You can claim back money you’re owed by making an application to a county court. This is typically known as taking someone to a ‘small claims court’.
They’re often used to get compensation or your money back if the law has been broken but should be seen as a last resort, after trying to resolve the problem using other routes like making a formal complaint or mediation – see alternatives to making a court claim.
Before you take such action you should write what is called a ‘letter before action’ to the person you’re claiming from (the ‘defendant’). This is a formal letter that states your intention to start court proceedings if you don’t hear back. Citizens Advice provides templates to help you include all the relevant information.
If you don’t get a reply or you’re not happy with the reply then the advice in this guide will help you understand what to do next. The information applies to steps you’ll take in England and Wales. There are different court claim processes in Scotland and in Northern Ireland.
Working out how much to claim for
You can use a small claims court for things like damage caused by a faulty product, being owed a refund or compensation for shoddy building work. Work out how much you think you are owed, including any costs you’ve incurred for putting the problem right.
You can add interest to the money you’re owed. This is usually based on an annual interest rate of 8% but calculated according to the number of days your debt is overdue.
How to make a claim
The simplest way is to make your claim online, but you need to know how much money you want to claim. You’ll need to claim by post if your claim is £100,000 or more, or if it’s more than £10,000 and you want help with your fees.
To apply online follow the claim process on GOV.UK – the website for the UK government. You’ll need to know the name, address and email of the person you’re claiming from. You’ll also need a debit or credit card for paying for the court fee.
Small claim court fees
Making a small court claim will cost you anywhere between £35 and £10,000, depending on the amount you’re claiming for. The table breaks down the costs according to the amount you’re claiming for.
|Amount you’re claiming for||Fee you’ll pay|
|Up to £300||£35|
|More than £300 to £500||£50|
|More than £500 to £1,000||£70|
|More than £1,000 to £1,500||£80|
|More than £1,500 to £3,000||£115|
|More than £3,000 to £5,000||£205|
|More than £5,000 to £10,000||£455|
|More than £10,000 to £200,000||5% of the claim|
|More than £200,000||£10,000|
The fee will be automatically calculated for you when you make your claim online based on the amount you say you’re claiming for. You need to know the amount you’re claiming for – even if it’s an estimate – to make a small claim application online.
Small claims are usually under £10,000. Claims over £10,000 will still be heard in a county court but are usually dealt with differently – with a more formal hearing.
Help paying for the fee
You can get help paying for your court fees if you’re on a low income or benefits, and have little or no savings. Take a look at GOV.UK for more information on how to get help with fees.
What happens after you make your claim
Your claim – including your name and address – will be sent by the courts to the person who owes you money with a deadline for them to respond.
If the defendant refuses to pay you back your money or you get no response from them you will need to ask the court to order them to pay. You will need to complete more forms to do this and you will be given information about which form to complete.
You may have to go to court if the defendant says they don’t owe you money, if they disagree with the fee you’re claiming for or if they offer a fee you’re not willing to accept. It can help if you try mediation first.
Having your claim heard in court
Your hearing will be held in a county court if your claim is less than £10,000, and you’ll get a decision on the day of your hearing. You can choose to represent yourself, pay a lawyer to represent you, take someone with you to advise or ask someone to speak on your behalf.
If you win your case, the defendant will be ordered by the court to pay you what is owed. This might also include fixed fees like your court costs but you will need to cover other costs.
A small claims judgement going in your favour doesn’t mean you will get the money you’re owed. There are other ways to enforce the judgement – including sending in bailiffs – but they add more cost.
If you don’t win your case and you think the judge made the wrong decision you have 21 days to appeal it.
Help finding a lawyer to represent you
You can get help from a lawyer but do explore free or lower cost legal support – like legal aid or legal expenses covered by your home insurance – to help with the costs.
Finding a lawyer with the right experience is important. A good starting point is to look for a solicitor who is a member of a recognised scheme or body, including:
- The Law Society in England and Wales
- The Law Society of Scotland
- The Law Society of Northern Ireland
Alternatives to making a court claim
Taking someone to a small claims court is often seen as a last resort. You should explore other easier, cheaper and faster alternatives first.
- Make a formal complaint to the company. If your problem doesn’t get resolved this way you can explore whether the company is a member of an alternative dispute resolution (ADR) scheme who will look at your complaint and help you come to an agreement with the company.
- If you paid by debit card, you can ask for your money back using ‘chargeback’ which is a way for your card provider (including credit cards) to claim money from a retailer or traders bank. You have 120 days from the transaction processing date and will need evidence that there has been a breach of contract.
- If you paid by credit card, you can ask for your money back using Section 75 of the Credit Card Act if you paid for all (or some) of the cost for digital content costing more than £100 but no more than £30,000. Speak to your credit card company to do this.
- Using a mediation service before going to court can help negotiate a settlement. It can also be quicker and cheaper than going to court. It might also be viewed favourably by a judge if you’ve demonstrated your willingness to mediate first. Find out more about mediation services from the Civil Mediation Council.
Get free advice from the consumer helpline
You can contact Citizens Advice consumer helpline if you need more help dealing with tricky retailers, businesses or traders. And if you decide to make a small court claim.
Know your consumer rights with these related guides
Know your rights with these related guides. They will help you work out whether you have a strong claim. Sign up for updates – we’ll tell you when we publish more guides that help you stand up for yourself when things go wrong with the products and services you buy.
- Shopping – your rights when shopping for goods and how to get your money back or claim compensation.
- Digital content – your rights when buying or subscribing to digital content and how to get your money back or claim compensation when things go wrong.
- Cars – your rights when buying a new or used car from a dealer or private seller, and when you’re entitled to a refund.