Small claims procedure
The aim of the small claims procedure (also known as the small claims court) is to provide an inexpensive, fast and easy way for consumers and businesses to resolve disputes without the need to employ a solicitor. The person who is making the claim is known as the claimant. The person you are claiming against is known as the respondent. Both the claimant and the respondent must be living or based within the State. If either party lives or is based in another EU member state, the European Small Claims Procedure should be used.
The small claims procedure is provided by the local District Court offices.
The procedure can be used to resolve consumer complaints. Certain other types of disputes are also eligible. Since January 2010, businesses can make claims against other businesses.
The claim cannot exceed €2,000.
Types of claim
The following types of consumer claims can be dealt with under the small claims procedure:
- Consumer claims such as for faulty goods or bad workmanship. You must have bought the goods or service for private use from someone selling them in the course of business.
- Claims can also be made for minor damage to your property.
- Claims for the non-return of a rent deposit for certain kinds of rented properties, such as, a holiday home or a flat in a premises where the landlord also lives.
Consumer claims cannot be made through the small claims procedure for debts, personal injuries or breach of leasing or hire-purchase agreements.
Businesses can make claims against other businesses in relation to contracts for goods or services purchased. It does not apply to claims in relation to:
- Agreements to which the Consumer Credit Act 1995 applies
- Breaches of leasing agreements
- Debt or liquidated damages
Summary of procedure
The procedure is designed to deal with claims up to €2,000 and can be summarised as follows:
- The claimant completes the application form and sends it to the Small Claims Registrar with the relevant fee or applies online
- The application is registered by the Registrar
- A copy of the claim and a Notice of Claim is sent by the Registrar to the respondent
At this stage, there are various choices available to the respondent:
- They can admit the claim
- They can dispute the claim
- They can counterclaim
- They might ignore the claim.
Respondent admits the claim
The respondent has 15 calendar days to reply. Where the respondent admits the claim, they complete a Notice of Acceptance of Liability and return it to the Registrar
The respondent has 3 options:
- The respondent agrees to pay the amount claimed. Here, the respondent agrees to pay you immediately. Payment is made by cheque, postal order or money order, made payable to the claimant, and sent to the Registrar. If payment is conditional, for example the goods must be returned, then the Registrar must seek the claimant's agreement
- The respondent consents to judgement. Here, the respondent will only pay you when judgement is made in the District Court. You do not have to attend at court. The claimant swears an Affidavit of Debt and makes a request for Judgement and Decree. The Registrar will assist the claimant in this procedure. The Registrar will notify the respondent of the judgement. The respondent has 28 calendar days to comply with the judgement.
- The respondent wishes to pay the amount claimed in instalments. The Registrar must inform the claimant of this request and must seek the consent of the claimant to the terms proposed.
Respondent disputes the claim
The respondent has 15 calendar days to reply and returns to the Registrar the Notice of Dispute within the 15 calendar day period. The Registrar sends the claimant a copy of the Notice of Dispute and tries to settle the dispute.
If no settlement can be reached, the matter is then set down for a hearing in the District Court.
The respondent counterclaims
The respondent outlines their intention to counterclaim on the Notice of Dispute and sends the appropriate fee to the Registrar. The Registrar sends the claimant a copy of the Notice of Dispute and Counterclaim.
The respondent does not reply to the claim
The respondent has 15 calendar days to reply to the claim. Where there is no reply by the respondent, they are then held to have admitted the claim. The procedure is the same as if they had consented to judgement. The claimant swears an Affidavit of Debt and makes a request for Judgement and Decree. The Registrar will assist the claimant in this procedure. The Registrar will notify the respondent of the judgement. The respondent has 28 calendar days to comply with the judgement.
Enforcing your judgement
Once you have obtained judgement and have a decree, there is the possibility that the respondent will not comply with the order of the court. In this situation, you may need to enforce your judgement. The most usual way of enforcing a judgement is to give the decree to the Sheriff or County Registrar for execution.
You have to apply to the Small Claims Registrar to have the decree sent to you. The Registrar will not automatically send you the decree for execution in this way. After you give the decree to the Sheriff or County Registrar, they then go to the respondent and seize goods or money to the value of the amount set out in your decree.
It will involve a fee, payable to the Sheriff or County Registrar. If the Sheriff or County Registrar successfully executes the judgement, this fee will be refunded to you.
Information and assistance on enforcement procedures is available from the Small Claims Registrar.
If your case has been referred for a hearing in the District Court, you will receive a letter from the District Court office telling you the date and time of the court hearing and the location of the court itself. The case will be heard in public as part of a normal sitting of the District Court. It may be advisable to get legal advice.
Under Irish law, a business is required to be legally represented in court-based proceedings.
The current fee for making a claim through the small claims procedure is €25. This fee is payable by cheque (made out to the Small Claims Registrar) or postal order. The Small Claims Registrar will accept the fee in cash if you pay it in person. If you apply online, you are required to pay online.
If your claim is accepted as suitable for the small claims procedure the fee is not refunded, even if your claim is successful.
How to apply
Print an application for the small claims procedure. This application form is also available from local District Court offices. Staff in the District Court office can help in completing the application form.
It is important when completing the application form to give all the necessary information. This will help the Small Claims Registrar to process your claim and try and resolve the dispute. If no resolution can be reached, it will also make it easier to enforce a Decree (or court order) if one is granted.
You can find more on completing the application form in ‘Further information’ below.
You can also make an application for the small claims procedure online. Using Courts Service Online you can create and pay for a small claim application. You can also check the status of your online small claim securely, using a username and password.
To create a claim online you need a credit or debit card and an email address to which you have access.
Where to apply
The small claims procedure is provided through local District Court offices. You make your claim to the District Court office in the area where:
- The person you are making a claim against lives or carries on business or
- Where the contract was made or
- Where the damage to property took place
You will find a list of district court areas on the Court Service website.
The Courts Service has information on the small claims procedure on its website.
Completing the application form
Before you begin to fill in the application form, the following information will be useful to help explain the various parts of the form. There are 3 distinct sections to the form.
The person taking the claim is the claimant. This section is for your personal details. Here you should enter your name and address. It is important to make sure that the correct person is making the claim. The person who bought the faulty goods or the person who ordered the work to be carried out should be the one to take the claim. Likewise, the person whose property has been damaged should be the one making the claim.
This section is for the details of the person or company you are making the claim against. You must make the claim against a person or a company. Often you may not know who owns the shop you bought the faulty goods from. It is not enough to just put the name of the shop on the application form. You must investigate who owns the shop.
You can do this by making a companies search in the Companies Registration Office. Here you will find a register of all the companies in the country. If the shop is not registered as a company, try a business name search, also in the Companies Registration Office. If the respondent resides outside of Ireland, you should ask them to nominate, in writing, someone in this country (usually their agent or solicitor) to accept proceedings on their behalf.
In this section, you should set out the facts of your case clearly and simply.
- When did you buy the goods/services? When was your property damaged? When did you rent the property?
- Who is your claim against?
- What went wrong?
- How did you deal with it?
- Why are you taking court action?
- How much are you claiming for?
It is important to include the amount for which you are claiming. If the claim is not disputed, you may get judgement without having to go to court. Bear in mind that you can normally only claim the amount for which you are directly out of pocket, in other words, the amount you paid for the faulty goods and/or any cost involved in having them repaired. It is therefore a good idea to keep all receipts and documentation to show what these amounts are.
In general, you cannot claim damages for distress caused to you by a faulty product or service. However, there are some exemptions to this rule, for example, where the purpose of the contract is to relax, such as a claim about a holiday that goes disastrously wrong. You can read more about consumer rights and package holidays here. It should be noted that distress is not defined as personal injury, which cannot be claimed for through the small claims procedure.