The following is a comprehensive guide to the Small Claims Procedure. If you are thinking of making a claim, we would suggest that you read it carefully.
Am I Eligible?
You can claim against a person or company for goods or services you purchased from them for private use, providing they were acting in the capacity of a business. If you bought goods or services from a person under a private, informal arrangement, the court won’t be able to take your claim.
If you are a business, you can claim against another business, provided you purchased the goods or services for business use.
You can claim against a landlord for the non-return of a rent deposit, provided the landlord resides in the same property that you are renting, and that there is a written contract that contains an obligation on the part of the landlord to return your deposit.
Certain specific types of rented properties are allowed for, such as holiday homes. If you are renting under a sub-letting arrangement, you can claim against the person you are sub-letting from.
You can claim against a person or business that has damaged your property, provided you witnessed the damage as it occurred.
Hire-purchase agreements, lease agreements, debt, consequential damage and compensation claims are not handled by the Small Claims Court. Neither is personal injury.
Are there any steps I should take before I make a claim?
Before making a claim, you should try to engage with the person or business to see if they are willing to properly address your complaint. The Court expects these efforts to be made, so it is a good idea to document all of your attempts to resolve the issue, including making copies of emails or letters you send, or noting times of phone calls and the names of the people you spoke to. All of this will show the Court that you are a reasonable person who doesn’t jump straight to filing a claim the moment a problem arises.
Also, you should make sure that you have contacted any other agency that might handle such matters. For example, if it is to do with rented property, it is a good idea to contact the Private Residential Tenancies Board (PRTB) first. Or if it is to do with a registered garage, you should get in touch with the Society of the Irish Motor Industry (SIMI). Often the Small Claims Office will only handle a claim once these other bodies have shown that they are unable to do so.
Sometimes a business will stipulate in its contract that consumers must use the business’ own dispute resolution mechanism before looking for redress elsewhere. If this is so, the Small Claims Court can only be applied to once that approach has been exhausted.
What kind of evidence can I gather to help my claim?
Anything at all that pertains to your dispute with the Respondent, including correspondence, receipts, invoices, photographs, faulty goods, independent expert reports etc.
What is the maximum amount the Small Claims Court can award?
Currently, €2,000 is the ceiling for claims.
Where do I make a claim?
The Small Claims Court is a branch of the District Court so you should file your claim in the District Court Office closest to where the contract was made or, in the case of property damage, the office closest to where the damage took place. There is a list of District Court Offices on www.courts.ie.
Regarding online contracts, the Small Claims Office will generally accept the claim wherever the Claimant made the contract: so if you live in Dublin, the Dublin Office will take the claim, even if the Respondent’s business is located in Donegal. However, there is the risk that the judge might decide such a case is not within his/her jurisdiction.
How do I make a claim?
The Small Claims Court provides an online application system: you can find it on www.courts.ie. Alternatively, you can send in your claim by post – the application form can be downloaded from www.courts.ie or picked up from your nearest District Office. If you are sending your claim by post, you should address it to the Chief Clerk of the appropriate District Court. If you are applying to the Dublin office, address it to the Small Claims Registrar.
How much does it cost?
The fee for taking out a claim is €25. This is the only direct expense you will have to pay to the court. There will be no legal fees, unless you decide to hire a solicitor. Costs are not awarded, so there is no risk of a large bill at the end of the proceedings. The whole process is designed to be affordable for everyone and without the intimidation of unforeseen costs.
If you are applying online, you don’t send in the fee until the Small Claims Office has approved your application. At that point they will notify you of their approval and inform you how to pay the fee.
If you are posting your claim, you can pay by way of a money postal order or a bank draft. Again, the office will not process these until they have approved your claim. So if your claim is rejected, you will be refunded by the Post Office.
Not all Small Claims Offices accept cheques. If you are planning to pay by cheque, it is important that you contact the office first to see if they take such payment.
What do I need for making a claim?
The most important piece of information is the proper business address of the Respondent, as registered with the Companies Registration Office (CRO). This cannot be stressed enough. You should provide both the name of the Respondent and the name that he/she trades under: e.g. Mary Doyle trading as I Sell Cars Ltd. The address can be obtained from the CRO website www.cro.ie, though the Dublin Small Claims Office advises that people telephone the CRO, in order to ensure that the address being sought is the correct one. The number is 01 804 5200.
If you are claiming against a private citizen for damage to your property, you should provide that citizen’s residential address.
It may take a bit of digging around to find the Respondent’s proper address, but this is time well spent. If the wrong address is given, your case can be held up until you find the correct one, whereupon the process starts again. Providing the correct address at the outset will potentially save you weeks of delays.
If the person or company is not legally trading and is not registered with the CRO, the Judge might decide that the claim cannot be dealt with.
What should I include on the application form?
When providing the name and address of the Respondent, include email addresses and telephone numbers; anything that might make the Respondent easier to locate.
You will need to state exactly what sum of money you are claiming for. This number must be justified by the circumstances, so if you received a faulty good, you should claim for the sum of money you paid for that good. This does not always correspond to the value of the good itself. For example, if you purchase a phone under a monthly payment plan (meaning you don’t pay any money up front) and a fault manifests itself, you can only claim for the amount it has cost you up until that point. So if you pay €25 a month and the phone stops working after two months, you will only be able to claim for €50.
You will also need to provide details as to the particulars of your claim. These include:
- What was wrong with the good or service?
- When did you purchase it?
- When did the problem manifest itself?
- What efforts did you make to engage with the Respondent?
- Why have you resorted to taking a claim against them?
When filling out the form, avoid the more personal details of your dispute with the Respondent. The Office is looking for you to give the facts, and long passages about what a terrible person the Respondent is will not help your case.
What happens after I send in my claim?
After the claim is received and approved, the Small Claims Registrar will send a copy of it to the Respondent by registered post
Officially, the Respondent is given 15 calendar days to respond, but many of the Small Claims Offices will allow them a longer period than that. The Dublin Office, for example, gives six weeks. The rationale for this is that if the process is rushed at the early stages, delays might arise later on with Respondents claiming that they never received their notifications and filing to set the cases back. Such complications benefit nobody, so time is given at the start to ascertain the exact position of the Respondent: whether or not the Respondent is willing to admit/dispute the claim, whether or not the Respondent is ignoring it, or whether or not the Respondent has received the claim at all.
What if the Respondent doesn’t respond?
If the Respondent doesn’t respond, the process will continue along one of the following two paths:
If the appropriate time period has lapsed and you haven’t heard from either the Registrar or the Respondent, you should contact the Small Claims Office. It is important to remember that the onus is on you to contact the Office, not the other way around. If the Registrar hasn’t heard back from either the Respondent or An Post (meaning that the registered letter was successfully delivered) you will be asked to come in and swear an Affidavit of Debt. You will do this in the Small Claims Office, not in court. The Office will grant you a Payment By Default and send out a Notice to Pay to the Respondent. If, after another four weeks, you have heard nothing from the Respondent, you should notify the Office and they will issue you a decree for the Sheriff, along with the Sheriff’s contact details.
N.B: The Office advises people not to chase the Respondents themselves. As soon as there is any contact whatsoever between you and the Respondent, the Office will be unable to issue you a Payment by Default.
If within the given time period the registered letter is returned to the Office (either because the Respondent does not reside/trade at the given address or because the Respondent has managed to evade taking possession of the letter) then you will be asked to come into court for the purpose of requesting a Substitution of Service. You will do this at the next available sitting of the Small Claims Court.
What is Substitution of Service?
If you are satisfied that the address you originally provided is the correct one and that the Respondent continues to reside/trade there, and if you can present the judge with evidence to back this up, the judge will grant your application for Substitution of Service and order that the Notice of Claim be sent out to the same address by ordinary post. As soon as that letter goes into the Respondent’s letterbox, the Respondent will be deemed aware of the proceedings. Again, he or she will be given time to respond (in Dublin: six weeks.)
If you have reason to believe that the address you originally provided is not the correct one, or that the Respondent no longer resides/trades there, you can apply to the court to have the claim sent to the new address. (You might, for example, apply to have the Claim sent to the Respondent’s residential address as opposed to the business one.) This follows the same path as the above procedure: once evidence is supplied and the judge is satisfied, he/she will make an order for the Notice of Claim to be sent out. It is up to the judge to decide whether the Notice will be sent by registered or ordinary post.
In cases where the Respondent has different addresses on different documents (e.g. one on the contract and another on the website) the judge is the person legally qualified to sift the evidence and decide the best approach. In fact, depending on the evidence you have accrued, the judge might decide to have the claim served at several addresses simultaneously.
What happens if the Respondent admits the claim?
If the Respondent is willing to accept liability, he/she will return a Notice of Acceptance of Liability form to the Small Claims Office. The Respondent will choose to either:
- Pay the full amount
- Pay with conditions attached (i.e. “refund on return of faulty goods)
- Consent to judgement
- Pay by instalments
Where the Respondent agrees to pay the full amount immediately, the money will be sent to the Small Claims Office in the form of a cheque, money order, or postal order made payable to you.
If the Respondent wishes to attach any special conditions to the payment of the Claim, such as that he/she will only pay the money once the faulty goods have been returned, he/she must notify the Registrar. The Registrar will in turn notify you of the Respondent’s offer and might attach comments and observations to help you make your decision. You do not have to accept the Respondent’s conditions, but it is a good idea to pay attention to any advice the Registrar gives. Remember that at all times the Registrar is interested in helping you and the Respondent settle the Claim without going to court, and that the Registrar will carry out negotiations by letter or over the telephone in order to reach a satisfactory settlement; alternatively, either party is free to call to the relevant district courthouse to discuss the case. The court hearing itself is simply the last option once all the other options have failed.
Alternatively, the Respondent can consent to judgement, which means that he/she will pay only after the case has been reviewed and decided by a judge. It is unlikely that the Respondent will choose this option, but if he/she does, both parties will be called into the Small Claims Office and an Affidavit of Debt will be sworn. The Office will draft up a Notice to Pay on the foot of this “Consent to Judgement,” and the Respondent will be given 28 days to pay. If he/she doesn’t, you will be issued a decree for the Sheriff.
The Respondent can also agree to pay by instalments. The Registrar must be informed of this, and your approval must be obtained. Again, you are free to reject any instalment plans. If you do accept the plan and the Respondent doesn’t follow through completely, you then notify the Registrar and the Registrar will instantly issue you a decree to give to the Sheriff.
The Registrar makes copies of everything sent in by both you and the Respondent; once the Respondent sends an offer in, you will be given a copy of it. If you are unhappy with the offer, you send your comments back to the Registrar, who in turn sends them on to the Respondent along with a “Best Endeavours Letter”. This is basically a letter asking the Respondent if he/she would like to make another offer. If the Respondent is unwilling to make a new offer, the Registrar will apprise you of such and suggest that, in order to avoid playing a long game of letter-tennis, you should request a court date.
What happens if the Respondent disputes the claim?
A Respondent who intends to dispute the claim will send a Notice of Dispute to the Office; a copy of this Notice will then be sent on to you. Again the Registrar will try to mediate between the two of you, most often by letter, but also by phone, particularly when it gets closer to a court date. As with the above procedure, several letters will be sent back and forth. Eventually, if no agreement can be reached, the Registrar will suggest referring the case to court.
What happens if the Respondent counterclaims?
Counterclaiming is where the Respondent, being informed of the claim you have taken out, signals to the Registrar that he/she intends to take a claim against you. This cannot be done frivolously, but must have a real reason behind it; e.g. if the Respondent, in the course of providing you a service, had to purchase materials elsewhere and is now at a financial loss because you cancelled the service.
Once the Notice of Counterclaim is sent in by the Respondent, along with the fee of €25, the Registrar will inform you and then list the matter for court straightaway.
How long will all this take?
Broadly speaking, you can expect the process of negotiation to take roughly two to three months where a claim is disputed, but bear in mind that every case is unique and no exact time-frame can be given to cover them all.
What happens if no settlement can be reached?
Once these attempts have been exhausted, the Registrar will suggest setting a court date. If you emphatically do not want to attend court, the Office might send one further letter to the Respondent on your behalf, but at this stage if you do not agree to go to court, the Registrar will most likely ask you to consider withdrawing your claim. Remember that even though the idea of court can be daunting, the Small Claims procedure is designed for people who have no experience of court or of giving evidence to a judge and that the judges themselves are there to listen to you and ensure that a fair and balanced decision is made regarding your case.
N.B. With regard to the participation of the Respondent throughout the entire process, the Registrar will not allow your case to hang in limbo. As you can see, there are many ways to proceed, even when the Respondent refuses to take part. However, when it comes to your own participation it is up to you to ensure that you regularly check up on your case, even by simply telephoning the Office. If you suddenly stop responding to them they won’t chase you, and it is then that your case will go into limbo.
What if the Respondent approaches me directly?
If, at any time throughout the procedure, the Respondent attempts to contact you directly (whether by phone, letter, email etc) you do not have to respond to them. In particular, if the Respondent is attempting to intimidate you, you are not obliged to respond in any way; simply inform the Registrar of the situation and he/she will handle it.
However, if at any time you and the Respondent decide to settle the matter independently of the Office, as is your right, you should inform the Registrar of this in order to avoid any confusion.
How is a hearing date set?
When setting a hearing date, the Registrar will give you a reasonable amount of notice. Again, the amount of notice is not uniform across the board, though 14 days is the minimum. The Dublin Office generally gives one month, though if there are time-constraining factors they might give less.
If, following the notice period, the first court slot is full, your case will be listed for the next hearing. The Registrar will generally discuss the hearing date with you in order to ensure that you will be able to attend. Remember, once the case is listed and the Notice of Hearing has gone out only a judge will be able to change the date. At that stage you can request an adjournment but there is no guarantee that it will be granted.
As soon as a hearing date is set, the Registrar will inform the Respondent and might send another “Best Endeavours” letter. Even if a letter is not sent, the Respondent is free to contact the Office and settle all the way up to the day before the hearing.
N.B: While there is a set day for hearings, there is no set time, so you will have to turn up for the opening of the court (usually at 10.30) and wait in the courtroom until your own case comes up. Depending on the caseload, and how quickly they are settled, you could be in court for an hour or until evening. There is no way to tell, so do not make any other arrangements or commitments for that particular day. Children will not be allowed to attend the court.
Do I need legal representation?
One of the main benefits of the Small Claims Court is that there is no obligation on your part to recruit legal representation. If you want to, you can, but bear in mind that you will have to pay their fees, even if you win.
Some businesses use legal representation but you shouldn’t allow this to intimidate you; by the time you reach your court hearing, you will be so well versed in the details of your claim that extra legal knowledge will make little or no difference. Furthermore, the judge will know that you are without a legal background and unused to presenting yourself in court and will allow for that when hearing evidence.
How do I apply for an adjournment?
If you want to apply for an adjournment you must do so in writing. A good reason is essential.
In addition, the Office advises that you notify the Respondent of your application. If the relationship between you and the Respondent is in such a bad condition that communication is impossible, the Registrar will do it on your behalf.
What does it mean if the Respondent applies for set-aside?
If the Respondent claims to have not received proper notice of your claim, he/she might apply for the case to be set-aside, which means that it will be set back for another date. Generally these occur after an Affidavit of Debt has been sworn and the Respondent has received a Notice to Pay. Sometimes they might even occur when the Sheriff calls to the Respondent to enforce your decree. It is to prevent such applications that the Office takes time in the beginning to try and make sure that everyone has been properly notified.
What can I expect to occur in court?
Make sure that you arrive early, and have with you all of your documentation, photographs etc.
There will be an ordered list of cases on the door of the court, which will give you an idea of when your case will be called.
The Registrar will make preliminary announcements regarding the rules of the court; no eating, no mobile phones etc. Then he/she will go through a call-over of the listed cases, just to make sure that everyone is present, and when your case is called you should stand and inform the Registrar that you are here.
The judge will enter and go through the cases one by one to see if any have been settled. Even at this point the disputing parties are free to settle, and if you have done so you should inform the judge of this when he/she reaches your case. The judge will then put your case back for mention, which means that it will be mentioned at the next hearing as a sort of safety net, whereby if anything has gone wrong with the settlement, you can attend court and inform the judge. If nothing has gone wrong, you don’t need to show up. After setting the case back for mention, the judge will allow the relevant parties to leave.
It depends on the judge, but generally the shorter cases will be dealt with first. This means applications for sub-service, adjournments or set-asides.
Those applying for sub-service will be invited up to the witness stand, where they will be sworn in by the Registrar. Any evidence that they have, they pass to the Registrar, who then passes it on to the judge. The judge will question them, and make a decision based on the evidence provided.
After the applications are done, the judge will usually take a brief recess in order to give the remaining disputants another chance to settle.
If there are no more settlements, the judge will hear the disputed cases one by one. The parties will be called to the front of the court and sworn in. In some cases, those giving evidence will be asked to come up into the witness stand; at other times the judge will be content for everybody to give evidence from the front of the court. It depends on the court and on the judge.
How do I give my evidence?
The judge should always be addressed as Judge.
He/she will ask you to outline all the details of your case and provide evidence etc. If you have brought any witnesses they will be sworn in and asked to give evidence as well. Then the Respondent will be given a chance to put across his/her side.
Though there is the potential for the Respondent to cross examine you directly, and vice versa, it is more likely that the judge will keep a tight rein on the proceedings and act as a filter between the two parties. Emotions can be high when it comes to such matters, and it would be of no benefit to anyone if the two parties were allowed to roar at each other across the floor. Often you will address your remarks to the judge, who will then look for a response from the Respondent, and in that way a balanced view of the case is given.
When is a decision made?
After all the evidence has been heard and questions asked, the judge will most likely make a decision straightaway. In cases where a crucial piece of evidence is lacking, the judge might adjourn until the next available session to give either party time to accrue whatever is needed. It is important to note that if the case is adjourned in such a way, the same judge must see it through, so it will be adjourned until that judge’s next sitting.
If the judge is able to make a decision there and then, however, and the decision is in your favour, the Respondent will be ordered to pay you, and a Notice to Pay sent out. This might be for the full amount of your claim, or the judge might take into account mitigating circumstances and make an order for a reduced payment: it depends on the facts of the case.
If the judge finds against you, the case will be dismissed and no order granted.
N.B: if the Respondent doesn’t turn up on the day of the hearing, the judge won’t automatically award you your decree but will go through the facts of your case with you in the same way as if the Respondent were present. In other words, the Respondent won’t be penalised at this point for not showing up, and a fair and balanced assessment of the case will still be made.
How is the decision of the court enforced?
The Respondent is normally given 28 calendar days to pay. If you do not receive your payment, you should contact the Office. They will send the decree to you, along with contact details for the Sheriff, who will be your next point of call. There is a small fee for the Sheriff (in Dublin it is €9.50) and you will be refunded this once the Respondent’s assets are successfully seized.
N.B: If the Respondent’s address on the decree is incorrect, the Sheriff won’t be able to carry out the order, so make sure that the correct address is given.
Furthermore, if the Respondent has no goods or assets, the Sheriff won’t be able to carry out a seizure. It is only where the Respondent is solvent that a claim should be taken out at all, though the decree itself lasts for twelve years, meaning that if the Respondent were to become solvent in ten years time, you would be able to pursue them for whatever is still owed.
Can the court’s decision be appealed?
Both you and the Respondent have the right to appeal the case to the Circuit Court if you are unhappy with the result. The time-frame for this application is 14 days, though if you miss it you can apply to the court to have it extended.
A word of warning: appealing to the Circuit Court is a risky step because the fees are far higher there, legal representation is mandatory, and the judge might award costs against you. Before making an appeal, you should think very carefully about your case, why it might have turned out the way it did, and why you believe that another court might make a different decision to the District Judge. Don’t proceed merely on blind optimism or stubbornness.
What is the European Small Claims Procedure?
There is a mechanism provided for taking out claims against a Respondent who lives in a member state (excluding Denmark) other than the one you reside in.
The ceiling is €2,000, but the scope for claims is larger than that under the domestic Small Claims Court. For example, debt is included.
European Claims cannot be made online, but you can download an application form from www.courts.ie or collect one from your local District Court Office. When filing a claim, remember that you can do so either in your own jurisdiction or in the Respondent’s. The Small Claims Office advises you to claim under the jurisdiction that is most convenient for you. If you opt to travel to the Respondent’s jurisdiction, you will have to cover expenses such as flights.
If the Respondent refuses to travel to your jurisdiction, he/she can send all appropriate evidence and the judge will conduct the case in a fair and balanced manner, taking into account all sides.
Judgements will be recognised in all member states and will be enforced through whatever legal system of enforcement is in place in the appropriate state.