A guide to Small Claims Court

The Small Claims Court is operated by the office of the District Court under Irish civil law and is a service which consumers and businesses find useful and inexpensive. It is not a court in the typical sense of the word, but rather a procedure that consumers and businesses may follow should they wish to take a claim not exceeding €2,000.00. This article will outline the steps involved in making a claim via the Small Claims procedure and the possible outcomes of making such a claim.
Firstly, it is worth noting that that only certain types of claims may be dealt with by the Small Claims procedure.  In order for a consumer to avail of the procedure, he must have bought goods or paid for a service for private use from somebody selling them in the course of business. In order for a business to avail of the procedure, that business must have bought goods or paid for a service for use in business from someone selling them in the course of business.
The following claims may be dealt with by the Small Claims procedure:
Claims for goods or services  – these goods or services must have been bought for private use from someone selling them in the course of a business
Claims in tort for minor damage to property
Claims for the return of a deposit or “key money” in respect of a tenancy which does not come within the remit of the Private Residential Tenancies Board (PRTB) under the Residential Tenancies Act 2004. (If you are unsure whether your tenancy comes within the remit of the PRTB, it is best to contact your solicitor who can provide assistance)
The Small Claims procedure is not available for a claim in respect of personal injuries, a claim arising under a hire purchase agreement, a claim for a breach of a leasing agreement or a claim for a debt or money owed.
A claim is made by completing the necessary application form which may be downloaded from www.courts.ie. An application, including a fee payment of €25.00, may be submitted online, or alternatively, a Claimant may deposit the completed application form and fee to his local District Court office.
On receipt of the application, the Small Claims Registrar (District Court Clerk) will deal with the claim. The Registrar will send a copy of the application form to the party against whom a person is making a claim. This party is called a Respondent.
On receipt of notification of the claim, the Respondent has a number of options available to him.
The Respondent may admit liability and pay the Claimant the amount claimed. The Respondent can pay this immediately by sending the amount to the Small Claims Registrar. The Respondent may also pay the amount claimed in instalments on consent of the Claimant. If the claim is admitted, the District Court will then make an order directing payment to the Claimant.
The Respondent may dispute the claim. The Registrar will notify the Claimant of the response and will usually call both parties together to try and resolve the dispute.
Another option open to the Respondent is to make a counterclaim, i.e the Respondent makes a claim against the Claimant.
If a settlement cannot be reached between the parties, the claim will be referred to the District Court for hearing. The claim will be heard in the same manner as any other case before the District Court – evidence is given under oath, the case is heard in public, witnesses may be called etc.  The Judge will then decide in favour of the Claimant or the Respondent.
In light of the above, it is clear that the Small Claims procedure can prove effective and useful  when a claim is admitted by the Respondent. However, readers must take heed that in the event of a claim being disputed or a counterclaim being made, proceedings in the District Court may follow.