If you are planning Court action, you should first consider whether the person or company you are claiming from is likely/able to pay you. Be aware that even if you win the case, the Court cannot guarantee that you will get the money you are owed. This is because all of the enforcement options available to you, depend on the defendant having assets or income of one kind or another, e.g. A Job / Cash in the bank / personal property of value (e.g. Car) / A Property (e.g. a home owner). If the defendant has nothing (i.e. a 'Man of Straw') there is little point in pursuing the matter any further through the Court system, unless you want to win a point of principle and lodge a County Court Judgment (CCJ) next to the defendant's name, which will affect his ability to get credit in future.
To take a person or company to Court in England or Wales you need to Make a Claim against them, you can do that by obtaining form N1 from your local Court, or by using the excellent Money Claim Online website (MCOL) which I am going to talk about below. Think carefully at this point because by Making a Claim you are making your dispute official - and you start paying fees (usually £100+). You can drop your Claim at any time, but unless you see the Claim through to the end and win the Case, you won't be getting that fee back.
Making a Claim using Money Claim Online (MCOL)
To use MCOL, connect to www.moneyclaim.gov.uk and register as a user - you'll then need the following pieces of information to make your Claim:
- The name and full address (in England or Wales) of the person or company you are claiming against, including postcode
- The particulars of your Claim, i.e. why you are claiming (100-200 words)
- The amount you are Claiming - see below.
Take your time when entering your Claim on MCOL and get your facts 100% right. Your claim will be scrutinised by the Court prior to approval and any factual errors will come back to haunt you if your Claim progresses to a Hearing.
You'll need the name and full address of the defendant including postcode in order to make your Claim, this is because Court documents are served by 1st Class mail and if the address is incorrect, the defendant can say that he didn't receive one or more Court documents and the case could be thrown out on that basis.
If you don't know the defendant's address you can try websites such as www.freefindpeopleuk.co.uk ; online electoral roles www.192.com/help/tools-guides/electoral-roll ; or if you want to find the owner of the house you are renting try: www.landregistry.gov.uk ; be warned that finding an address online is a hit-and-miss affair and the above sites have limited free usage. If you know some of the defendant's address, the Royal Mail Postcode finder may help in establishing the postcode, district etc.
I would advise that you prepare your particulars of claim explanation beforehand, as it can be a difficult to produce a clear, concise description of your Claim that includes all relevant detail. It may be worth getting a friend to proof-read your spiel before submission, don't forget that you are writing to someone (the Court) who knows nothing about you, what happened or how you got to that point.
The amount of the claim is also something to think carefully about. In my case I claimed the £1100 that my landlord owed me in unreturned Rent/Deposit, plus £550 in additional costs/expenses such as Hotel, Restaurants and allowable Interest. These additional expenses were incurred as a direct result of my landlord's actions (evicting me with 24hrs notice) so I felt it reasonable to claim them on that basis. I have also heard of people claiming for the cost of phone calls, letters and Solicitors fees(*). I didn't go that far, but my thought on this is that you have a long road ahead in taking the Claim through to a Hearing, if you don't claim adequate compensation/expenses, you'll regret it later. You know this - but I'll say it anyway - you'll need receipts/paperwork for everything.
MY CASE: The Judge gave me a minor grilling regarding the £550 of additional costs that I had claimed (these were hotly disputed by the defendant), but I was able to argue that the accommodation I chose was a no-frills business Hotel and other expenses were directly attributable to the defendant's actions - although I did push things a little with one top-end restaurant meal... In the end, all my costs were granted in full.
(*) It is difficult to get a definitive answer to the question: "Can I claim for my Solicitors costs in a Small Claims case?" You cannot claim for the costs of a Solicitor who represents (speaks for) you in the Court room. You may, at the discretion of the Judge, claim for a consultation - a one-off meeting with a Solicitor prior to launching your Claim, up to the value of £50 - £80. If you have met with a Solicitor, I'd suggest that you do claim it on MCOL, the Judge may strike it out later, but it is reasonable to include it as a cost when making your claim.
When is your Claim a small Claim?
At this stage what you are doing is Making a Claim (not a Small Claim, just a Claim), you probably want it to be a small claim because of the simplicity and informality of the Small Claims Track processing, but there is no way to select Small Claim on the MCOL website. If however your Claim is for £10,000 or less, and the dispute is ~straightforward, e.g. no expert witnesses, no complex legal argument, etc. then it will be allocated (by a Judge) to the Small Claims Track. You can't choose the Small Claims Track for your Claim, a Judge makes that decision based on the amount you are claiming and the complexity of your Claim.
You'll have to pay a fee at this point to start your MCOL Claim, so have your Credit Card ready. It is slightly cheaper to use MCOL to claim, compared to sending hardcopy forms to your local Court, but the fee - which is on a sliding scale depending on how much you claim for - will still likely be at the thick end of £100. Court fees are detailed in form EX50 on the HMcourts website, as with everything on the HMCourts site, EX50 deals with all possible Court Case scenarios and it takes some time to plough through. Search for 'Starting your Claim' within the EX50 form to see the appropriate fee for your Claim.
Submitting your Claim
You will be asked to sign the Claim form (type your signature) and that's it. Press the Submit button to send your Claim through to the Court. After submission, your Claim is manually approved by Court Office staff and, after approval, a letter is sent to the defendant outlining the Claim against him. All this happens quite quickly, within 1-2 working days. The defendant now has 14 days to respond, your Claim is officially underway!