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Small claims actions

A small claims action is the simplest type of civil law case that sheriff courts can deal with. This page explains the small claims procedure.

Legal jargon

Although small claims procedure is designed to be simple and easy to use, you will still come across some legal words and phrases when going through small claims court. If you need a hand have a look at our jargonbuster - it explains what the key words and phrases mean.

What is a small claims action?

Small claims is a court procedure that is designed to deal with simple civil cases where the claim is worth £3,000 or less. It's a simplified court procedure that is quick and easy to use.

You'll hear people taking about small claim 'actions' as well as 'raising an action' or 'defending an action'. 'Action' is really just another word for 'court case'.

If you are taking a case to court under small claims procedure, there are standard forms you can use to make it easier for you - you don't have to draft any legal documents yourself. There are also Small Claims Rules that set out the whole procedure. If you're representing yourself you'll have to familiarise yourself with these rules - you can download both the forms and the rules from the Scottish Courts Service website. They're designed to be easy to read and understand but it can be very confusing if you're not used to dealing with the court system. However, don't worry - you can contact the sheriff clerk in your local sheriff court or get help from an advice agency or law centre if you need some help with the court procedure.

If your claim (or the claim against you) is for more than £3,000 (or if your case is more complicated) you won't be able to use the small claims procedure. Have a look at our pages on summary cause actions and ordinary cause actions for more information.

What can I use small claims for?

Small claims procedure is mostly used to sort out arguments over money. Here are some examples of housing problems that could be dealt with by small claims procedure:

  • Your title deeds say that you and your neighbour have a joint responsibility for the boundary between your houses but your neighbour refuses to pay towards the upkeep of your joint fence.
  • Your landlord has locked one of the rooms in your home and refuses to give you a key. Some of your personal belongings are in there and you want them back
  • You live in a block of flats and you are all responsible for repairs to windows in the stairwell. Your neighbours refuse to pay their share. You've had to pay the full amount to get the work done and you want your neighbours to contribute.

Can anyone use small claims procedure?

Yes, as long as the claim is worth £3,000 or less and there are no complicated points of law to be decided on.

Can the procedure be used in any court?

No. Small claims cases can only be dealt with in sheriff courts.

Do I need a solicitor?

No. Whether you are the one bringing the case to court (this is called 'raising an action') or defending it (if someone else has taken you to court), you don't need a solicitor to represent you in small claims procedure.

You can represent yourself if you want to or you can ask a friend, an adviser or another representative to speak on your behalf in court if you'd prefer that. If you represent yourself you'll be called a 'party litigant'. If someone else (other than a solicitor) is speaking on your behalf they'll be described as a 'lay representative'. The sheriff will decide whether or not your representative is a suitable person to speak on your behalf.

However, if your case is more complicated or involves some legal points it would be advisable to get a solicitor to represent you.

You can read more about your options (including getting a solicitor) in our section on legal representation.

Will I be able to get legal aid?

No. Legal aid is not available for small claims. This means that, depending on the outcome of your case, you might have to meet all the costs yourself.

How much will it cost?

Small claims are the cheapest type of court case in Scotland and the procedure has been designed to keep the cost down. However, it will cost you some money to take the case to court in the first place and, if you lose, you might have to pay your opponent's costs as well.

Initial costs if you're taking someone to small claims court

If you're raising the action (in other words, if you're taking someone to court), you'll have to pay a court fee to cover administrative costs (also known as 'outlays'). You'll have to pay this charge upfront at the court before you can go any further.

The initial court papers (called a 'summons') are usually sent ('served') on your behalf by first class recorded delivery so you'll have to any postage costs. If you have to employ a sheriff officer to make sure that your opponent ('the defender') has received the necessary court papers, this will cost a further fee.

Current court fees are listed on the Scottish Court Service website.

Bear in mind that you may have to pay court expenses as well if you lose your case (see 'court expenses' below).

Defending a case

If someone has taken you to court (in other words, if they have 'raised an action' against you) under small claims procedure, you won't have to pay any administrative costs or court fees to defend yourself and have your say in court.

However, if you've employed a solicitor to represent you, you'll have to pay their fees because you can't get legal aid for small claims. Ask your solicitor for a fee quote well before the court date so you can budget for this cost.

Appeal costs

If your case has been heard in court and a decision has been made but you aren't happy with it, you can appeal against it. You'll need to pay a small fee to do this, although you might get this back if your appeal is successful and your opponent is told to pay your court expenses (see below).

However, you might not get this money back so you should take this cost into account when deciding whether or not to go to court.

Court expenses

As well as administrative costs (or 'court fees'), you might have to pay court expenses to your opponent if the sheriff decides against you and you lose your case.

If the claim in your case was less than £200 and it was defended, the sheriff probably won't make you pay court expenses if you lose.

If the claim was between £200 and £3,000 and it was defended, you will probably have to pay some money to your opponent.

Solicitors' fees

Whether you are raising a small claim or defending one, if you have a solicitor representing you, you'll have to pay their fees and this can be expensive. Make sure you get a quote of their charges in advance so you know how much you'll have to pay. If your case gets more complicated and involves more work for your solicitor, they are entitled to charge you more, so ask for regular updates about the fees you'll have to pay.

However, you probably won't need a solicitor to represent you (see 'do I need a solicitor?' above). In fact, most solicitors won't take on small claims cases because they are generally very simple and there's no legal aid available for them.

How do I raise a small claims action?

Our page on raising a small claims action tells you what to do if you want to take someone to court using small claims procedure. You can also download our handy checklist that takes you through the main stages.

How do I defend a small claims action?

Our page on defending a small claims action tells you what to do if someone has taken you to court using small claims procedure and you want to defend the case. It also explains why it's not a good idea to ignore the situation if someone is taking you to court. If you do nothing, it could cause you more hassle in the long run.

Where can I find out more?

You can find lots more useful information on the Scottish Courts Service website including:

  • handy guidance on small claims procedure
  • the standard forms you need to use
  • links to the small claims court rules
  • how to get in touch with your local sheriff court.

You can also find lots more useful information in this section including:

Speak to a Shelter Scotland adviser

Call Shelter Scotland's free housing advice helpline

0808 800 4444*
9am-5pm, Monday to Friday

Email an adviser

You can also email a housing adviser. We aim to respond within three working days.

*Our advice line is free to call from landlines and all six of the main UK mobile networks, Virgin, Orange, 3, T-mobile, Vodafone and O2, but charges may apply from any other network


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