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Making a claim in the small claims court

Be aware of your right to take someone to the small claims court: it can protect you if you’re owed money.

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Most cases involve disputes with tradesmen

Henrik Sorensen photographer, www.henriksorensen.com

We've all heard of the small claims court, and some of us have undoubtedly threatened to use it even though we may not be sure exactly how it works. In the first quarter of 2018 there were 21,681 small claims cases. The majority involved disputes with builders and tradesmen.

Going to the small claims court is a low-cost way to claim money you feel you are owed by an individual or small business, perhaps because someone's not paid you, or has provided you with faulty goods. Note that before taking this route, you must be able to demonstrate that you have tried to settle a claim with the other party before resorting to the small claims court. This should involve a letter in writing (a "letter before claim") warning of your intention to go to court and setting out a reasonable time limit for a reply. This may be enough to prompt them to hand over any money owed.

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Next, note that there is a limit on how much you can claim through the process (just in case you weren't tipped off by the name). You can claim up to £10,000 in England and Wales, £5,000 in Scotland and £3,000 in Northern Ireland. If your dispute involves larger sums it will involve a more expensive court case.

The benefits of going through the small claims court should be that the situation is resolved fairly quickly and without the need to hire expensive lawyers to help you. Make sure you budget for court fees, though. These vary from £25 for a claim of up to £300, if done online, to £455 for claims of up to £10,000 made with a paper form. Note that these expenses may be covered on your car- or home-insurance policies, depending on what your case is about.

If you do decide to go to the court with a dispute, be aware that the onus is on you to prove you've been wronged. Your case will be a lot stronger if you can provide evidence, such as receipts or photos.

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To start the process, apply to the courts with a claim for the money you believe you are owed. You can do this online at Gov.uk/make-money-claim. The court will then contact the other party and give them a chance to respond (though it may suggest mediation first). Many companies will decide to settle just to avoid having to pay to defend themselves. If they dispute your claim, then a court date will be set for you to present your case. If you don't like the judge's decision, you have 21 days to appeal.

TSB loses out

TSB's IT woes have caused the bank to lose 21,790 customers in the second quarter of the year, according to the latest figures from the Current Account Switch Service. Up to 1.9 million people were locked out of their TSB accounts in April, when a system overhaul went disastrously wrong.

The stampede out of TSB headed towards Nationwide, which gained 34,577 new customers. Nationwide's FlexDirect account has long been popular, thanks to its 5% interest on balances up to £2,500. But it was also a successful quarter for challenger banks. Mobile app-based Monzo featured in the league table for the first time with a net gain of 2,702 customers, says comparison site MoneySavingExpert.

Monzo offers fee-free banking, alongside traditional services such as direct debits and overdrafts. Its auto-budget facility is also appealing. It tells you how much you're spending on eating out or shopping. The app-only bank plans to introduce some branch-based banking with a partner in the coming months. Monzo has more than one million current-account holders, notes Louise Eccles in the Daily Mail "more customers than 42 out of the 44 building societies".

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