In Scotland, a “small claim” is a type of Sheriff Court procedure which applies to claims with a value of up to and including £3,000.
What Sorts of Claims are Small Claims?
There are three kinds of claim which can be raised under small claims procedure and they are as follows:
- A claim for payment of money
- A claim for delivery or recovery of moveable property
- A claim for implement of an obligation
Claims for payment of money are, in our experience, the most common type of small claims action by far. Examples of claims for payment of money include:
- Compensation for damage caused by faulty workmanship
- Expenses incurred in repairing damage caused to a vehicle in a road traffic accident
- Money owed in terms of a loan
- Goods ordered and paid for but not supplied
- Unpaid bills
Personal Injury Claims are not Small Claims
Note that personal injury claims are not small claims under any circumstances. They are exempted from the small claim definition. Personal injury actions in the Sheriff Court are always either Summary Causes (up to and including £5,000 in value) or Ordinary Causes (above £5,000).
Why it is Rarely Viable to get Help from a Solicitor with a Small Claim …
It is permissible to use a solicitor to help you with a small claim but the system has been designed in such a way that the economics do not generally stack up if you use a solicitor. In short, if you use the services of a solicitor for a small claim – and even assuming your claim is successful – the legal fees you incur will form a significant proportion of what you can recover from your opponent and may wipe out all financial benefit entirely.
As with court actions generally, if your claim is successful, the court will find you entitled to a payment of expenses (court costs) in addition to the principal sum of money awarded by the court. The problem is that expenses are significantly restricted in small claims actions.
The Normal Rules about Recoverable Costs in Small Claim Actions
If the claim is for £200 or less and the case has been defended, there will normally be no award of expenses. In this situation, even the court fees paid by you (for example, to raise the action) will not be recoverable.
If the value of your claim lies between £200 and £1500 and the case has been defended, the maximum amount of expenses which can normally be awarded by the court to the successful party is £150.
If the value of the claim is between £1500 and £3000 and the case has been defended, the maximum level of expenses which will usually be awarded by the court to the successful party is 10% of the value of the claim. So, if the claim is for £1,800, the maximum expenses level will usually be £180.
The Economics of Small Claims
There are exceptions to this general rule where, for example, your opponent has not stated a defence or has failed to act in good faith in relation to the defence or has in some way acted unreasonably in relation to the case. In these situations, the court can order that expenses must be paid on the more remunerative Summary Cause scale. However, in our experience, such situations are rare.
Personal injury claims were excluded from the small claims regime because it was recognised that they are generally too complex to be viable without help from a solicitor. The associated costs recoverable in a personal injury claim needed to be more realistic than usually allowed in a small claim action.
Value is not actually a good indicator of the complexity of any legal problem and so, unfortunately, there are many non-personal-injury claims under £3,000 in value which would have good prospects of success if run properly but which are very difficult for a member of the public to raise on their own.
As a matter of policy – probably to prevent the courts being swamped with “low value” cases – a line has had to be drawn somewhere.
We get a lot of enquiries from people about making claims that would be classed as “small claims”. It is frustrating for us that we are not able to take on this business in the vast majority of cases because it makes no economic sense from the potential client’s point of view.
Why the Economics of Personal Injury Claims are better …
Personal injury actions in the Sheriff Court are not subject to the same restrictions on recoverable costs as small claims and so it should always be financially viable for a solicitor to take your personal injury claim on for, no matter how “small” it might be.
Get in touch to discuss your claim
If you have a query about a possible claim of any sort and at any level, please get in touch with us anyway as we will always treat any initial enquiry on a free, without-obligation basis and we will help as best we can, even if we cannot take the case on. Peter Brash can be contacted via firstname.lastname@example.org or 01343 544077.
A Useful Resource
The Scottish Courts website has a wealth of useful information about small claims, much of which can be downloaded, and you can link to these downloads by clicking HERE.