What is a small claim?
In general a small claim is one where the value to be claimed is not more than £3000.00 and which does not relate to personal injuries, road traffic accidents, libel or slander, title to land, legacy or annuity or any property of a marriage.
If the total sum at issue between the same parties exceeds £3,000, the claimant must either:
- proceed by abandoning any amount due over £3,000 (this will be expressly noted)
- issue a civil bill in the County Court for a full hearing (up to £30,000)
The Civil Processing Centre, which is located in Laganside Courts, 45 Oxford Street Belfast, processes all cases initially, but if a case is disputed it is then transferred to the office that is specified within the original application for hearing.
There are two types of small claim:
- liquidated - where the amount of claim is set, for example, loans or goods and services not paid for
- unliquidated - where the amount is estimated, for example, damage to property, faulty goods or workmanship
Once a case has been submitted to the Civil Processing Centre and verified, the respondent (the person against whom the claim is made) is then posted a small claims pack giving all relevant information in relation to the case, including a copy of the completed Small Claims Application Form.
The court does not pay the amount that is awarded; it only decides who is liable. A Decree or Order made by the Small Claims Court is a County Court Judgment (CCJ) and may affect a respondent's credit status. It may also affect an applicant’s credit status if a successful counterclaim is made.
Enforcement of Judgments Office
Before beginning the small claim process, you should know that the Enforcement of Judgments Office can make a search for a person or firm for a small fee. This will show if there are any enforced judgments already in existence against the respondent within the last 6 years.
You can then use this information to help you to decide whether or not it would be practical for you to proceed with this action.
Even if you succeed with your claim, if the respondent has other judgments lodged with the Enforcement of Judgments Office, you may find that you will not get your money back immediately, if at all.
To find out more information relating to fee and how you can obtain an Enforcement of Judgments Office search, contact them at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The fee for your small claim application will depend on the amount you wish to claim. A list of court fees can be obtained from the Northern Ireland Courts and Tribunals Service website.
If your claim is successful, the respondent will be ordered to pay you the amount decided by the Judge, plus the application fee along with any other costs awarded. If you are not successful, the respondent will not be ordered to pay you anything and you will not receive your fee back.
European Small Claims Procedure
A European Small Claims Procedure (ESCP) came into operation on 1 January 2009. It allows for cross-border cases (for example where at least one of the parties lives or is habitually resident in a Member State other than that of the court where the action is brought) and includes personal injury actions and road traffic related claims.
If you wish to issue a small claim to a respondent (the person against whom the claim is made) who lives outside Northern Ireland but within the UK, you can use the Northern Ireland small claims procedure.
However, you may want to consider using a process where the respondent resides to try to claim your money back. If the respondent lives in the Republic of Ireland you may also use the European Small Claims Procedure.
Small Claims online
In June 2007, the Northern Ireland Court Service launched Small Claims online. This service allows the public and business to make a small claims application outside normal working hours and track the progress of the application online.
Further information is available on the Courts and Tribunals Service website.