If you have a dispute with someone else or a business, it can be distressing. The aim of this guide is to help you sort it out as quickly as possible – so you can move on and focus on more positive things.
There’re many reasons why you may be involved in a dispute. Here are some examples:-
- Debt – someone owes you money (whether a friend or a customer of your business)
- Someone has damaged something that belongs to you
- A service was carried out badly - poor workmanship
- Faulty shop purchase – you want the shop to replace something the item that’s not working properly
- Internet purchase doesn’t match its online description
- Holiday went badly wrong due to problems with the hotel and facilities
- Your car still isn’t running properly despite expensive garage work
- A neighbour is too noisy or is stopping you enjoy your home
- Your landlord owes you your deposit or hasn’t made repairs.
Where the amount in dispute is under £10,000 the legal system refers to these as “small claims”. With injury compensation claims the limit is usually under £1,000 (which means claims where you have up to 3 weeks of pain and suffering). With claims for a landlord repairing a rented property it is also £1,000.
The significance of these limits is that people are expected to deal with these disputes themselves. If you win your claim you cannot claim back (almost) any of the costs of using a solicitor to help you.
QualitySolicitors recognise that these types of dispute are often stressful and upsetting. Often people could do with some help in sorting them out.
Also, whilst the legal system may call them a “small claim”, the money involved is a lot for most people to lose.
Therefore QualitySolicitors has put together cost-effective services to help you bring your claim yourself – often using mediation. This is explained in more detail at page 2.
How will this guide help?
- This is an easy to follow, step-by-step guide.
- It will help you get a fair outcome
- It will help you do this yourself – only using QualitySolicitors for the bits where you really need our support.
- It starts by helping you see if the dispute can be resolved without using the small claims court.
- It then guides you through the process of using the small claims court to get the compensation that is rightfully yours.
Most law firms do not offer a cost effective service to help with small claim disputes. QualitySolicitors are different. If you’d like help along the way we offer the following services to get you started:
Free First Advice: Call us for free first advice. This is the starting point if you are involved in a dispute.
- Confidential telephone advice service – we will arrange a call-back from a friendly lawyer.
- Not sure where to start? We’ll point you in the right direction.
- Find out if you’ve got a good case that is worth taking further
- Find out about the services we can offer to help you such as our £49 and £99 advice services.
- Chat to an expert lawyer to help you decide what to do next – with no obligation to use us.
Free - £0
– The usual time based cost for these services could be between £120 and £250.
- Advice from a real specialist lawyer – not just an advisor following a script at a call centre.
- Legal advice on your particular situation with no worry of unexpected legal bills
- Advice on your particular situation to help you have the best chance of a fair result.
- We’ll talk through with you the evidence you have to support your claim. Such as documents, receipts, letters, texts, emails or photos.
- We can writing a legal complaint letter, setting out your case.
- Help working out what you’re entitled to and what a fair outcome might be.
- Independent advice as to whether mediation is the best way forward.
- A copy of our plain English guide to the law.
Small Claims Fixed Price Advice: 2 special prices:-
£49 (inc VAT): Telephone advice
£99 (inc VAT): Ask the Legal Expert
Amount in dispute is £500 or less
Any amount in dispute under £10,000
Advice on your particular situation.
Advice on your particular situation.
No paperwork or documents to review
There may be paperwork to review
30 minutes of expert advice
45 minutes of expert advice
Telephone meeting with lawyer
Face to face meeting with lawyer (can be by phone)
Whatever the type of dispute, the starting point in trying to sort it out is the personal approach. Speaking to the other person or business. At this point there is usually no need to ‘get legal’ – just explaining why you are unhappy with the situation should be enough.
Trying personally to resolve the dispute is the fastest and often most effective route. If you raise the issue swiftly, many people will accept that you have a justifiable complaint and will be prepared to sort it out.
Depending on who the dispute was with the first step may be:
- Calling their customer help line
- Taking the item back and asking to speak to the shop manager
- Showing the builder or neighbour why your unhappy
Prepare – you will get more out of the call or meeting if you have prepared:
- Be clear about why you are unhappy – what is wrong
- Be clear about what is a reasonable solution or outcome
- If you are claiming money, be clear about the amount (ideally with paperwork or receipts to show the losses and expenses you have suffered.
- You should write out all you can remember about what was said and agreed. The sooner you do this the better - whilst your memory is still fresh. You can use the witness statement format given at page **of this guide.
- If there were any witnesses to what was said then you should also ask them to write out what they remember. The sooner they do this the more likely they are to be considered to have a reliable memory of events.
- Be calm - Explain why you are unhappy or feel let down – you want them to see it from your perspective
- Be polite – if you ‘lose it’ you are unlikely to get a quick outcome
- Be patient – you want to get the other person on your side
- Be reasonable – mistakes do happen, so be reasonable in your demands or in the solution you would like.
If the personal touch does not work, then step 2 is to get more formal. Write a polite but firm complaint letter (or email).
Your rights: At this step, it may help to know your legal rights – this will help you decide what you can reasonably demand as a fair solution to the situation. You will find out more for your particular situation here.
Evidence: You might first want to collect together evidence you can send with your letter or email. This can be:
- Paperwork such as written agreements, terms & conditions,
- Proof of payments such as invoices and receipts
- Witness statements or letters (where you can get these and they may help see further information at page **
- Expert letter or statement (perhaps from a repair man or another builder or garage) see page ***
Complaint letter: Each case (and therefore each letter) will be different. However there is a basic format that most letters can follow.
You don’t need to use headings – but they can divide up a long letter and make it easier to follow – making it easier to get the outcome you’re looking for.
||Information to include
How formal you are will depend on how well you know the person you are contacting about your dispute.
Dear Mr Smith,
Dear Sirs (if you are writing to a company and don’t know the name of a contact. If a large company also put a department name, such as Customer Service Team).
Provide any relevant background information:
If you’re writing to a business, you will need to give enough information to help them trace your details – quoting a reference number or invoice number will help.
Set out what was agreed between you.
Give details of what happened (in date order).
Be specific and refer to any written or verbal agreements. Where there are documents that show what was agreed, then provide copies.
Details of any payments requested and any payments made (dates and amounts)
Identify clearly why you are unhappy.
Be clear about why you think the other person or business is responsible.
Give details of any problems you have suffered as a result.
If relevant provide proof of the damage caused – such as photographs.
||Losses and expenses
If the problems have caused you losses or expenses - give details.
This could be the cost of repairs or replacement or the cost of extra expenses or losses you have suffered as a result.
Wherever possible provide proof of the costs such as receipts or invoices.
Be as clear as possible about the remedy or outcome you would like.
Say what action you would like them to take (or stop).
Where you seek money - put a price on the settlement you seek. Also explain how to make payment – perhaps the address to send a cheque or account details to transfer payment.
Give the other side 14 days to reply to your letter – to either:
Agree with your complaint and give you the remedy that you asked for.
Arrange to inspect the problem (giving details of when you’d be available and how to contact you).
If they do not agree they are to blame to set out their detailed response.
Point out that ignoring your letter will mean you may start legal proceedings for the court to deal with the dispute and that you may refer the judge to your letter.
If you started with their name, you can end “yours sincerely” and then your name.
If you started with “Dear Sirs”, you can end “yours faithfully” and then your name.
The QualitySolictors’ website has many sample complaint letters that follow this format that you can use as the starting point for yours. They comply with the rules of the Small Claims Court and so protect your legal position if you need to take your dispute to court and show you first tried to resolve it.
Then click on the situation closest to your dispute and you will find a guide to your rights and the right complaint letter for your circumstances. Each also sets out details of typical evidence and losses and expenses that might apply.
Here is just one example – for a problem with car repairs:
Mr Joe Bloggs
7 High Street,
Dear Mr Bloggs,
I brought my vehicle into your garage on 1st March 2013.
Vehicle make & model: Ford Fiesta
Registration: HJ 59TVR
What I asked for: I telephoned on 28 February and I explained that my brake warning light had been showing and I asked you to check that my brakes were working properly and if not for you to fix them but to call me first if it was going to cost more than £250.
Service you said you’d provide: You asked me to bring my car in on 1 March. You would look at the brakes and if necessary fix them. You agreed to call me if the total cost was likely to go over £100. You said that the car would be ready for collection later that day.
What happened: You did not call during the day. When I returned to collect the car at about 4.30 on 1 March, I was told that the problem was more serious than you had expected. I was told you needed to obtain some further parts.
We agreed that you would keep the car for a further day until the repairs could be carried out. At that point you estimated the cost including parts would be £1,000.
I reluctantly agreed to this.
I then collected the car on 2 March. I was told the problem had been resolved but it had taken longer than expected and the cost was £1,200.
When I collected my car on 2nd March 2013, I paid you £1,200 with my Nat West credit card.
When I drove the car home I noticed that the brakes were still not working properly.
I telephoned you at 4.30 on that day (2 March) and asked to bring in the car for you to look at again and you said you would be in touch with a time to being the car in. I was hoping you would sort the problem at no extra cost to me.
I did not hear from you so I telephoned you on 3rd and 4th March 2013 but you did not return my calls to make arrangements for me to bring the car back into your garage.
I do not feel the car is safe to drive and so I had to rely on buses and taxis and lifts from friends.
You initially promised to put the matter right but you did not.
On 5 March I took the car to Swift Repairs Garage who confirmed that the brakes were faulty and the car was not safe to drive. The garage told me that you had incorrectly fitted new brake pads.
I instructed them to make the needed repair. This cost me an additional £1,500 to put it right. The work was completed on 5 March. I attach their invoice and work sheet which is self-explanatory.
Swift Repairs Garage also advised me that the original repair should not have cost more than £500 to a maximum of £750. I attach a report letter where they explain this in more detail.
Losses and expenses
Although I have suffered a great deal of inconvenience I limit my claim to
- 2 return taxi journeys on 4 March to take and collect my 2 young children to their grandparents. It was reasonable to go by taxi as there is no direct bus route and I had no alternative vehicle available to me. See taxi receipts of £42.
- £1,500 being the cost of using Swift Repairs Garage fixing the problem after you did not take the opportunity to do this.
- A refund of £750 that you overcharged me for the original repair work. I have calculated this on the basis of the report of Swift Repairs where they said the most you should have charged was £750, meaning I claim back the remaining £750.
- £25 being the cost of the report of Swift Repairs – see attached invoice.
This gives a total of £2,317
I request that you pay me £2,317 as calculated above.
I request that you send me a cheque made payable to Mr Ian Rate to my home address within 14 days.
Please do not ignore this letter. I would like us to try to resolve our dispute without court proceedings and legal costs.
Please reply in the next 14 days, so that this dispute can be resolved as set out in this letter.
If you do not agree that you are liable and/or do not agree with the remedy sought, then please reply within 14 days with a detailed explanation of why not.
I am sure it will not prove necessary but if I do not hear from you within 14 days then I reserve the right to start court proceedings without further reference to you. I will ask the court for an order that you pay me £2,317.
If I do have to issue court proceedings, I will refer the court to this letter and I will also ask the court to order you to pay me interest, court fees and legal costs.
I look forward to hearing from you within the next 14 days.
TOP TIP - Don't delay!
The more quickly you raise your dispute with the other person or business, the better.
- You are both likely to have a good memory of conversations and events.
- Any witnesses will still remember.
- It may still be possible to take photographic evidence of what went wrong and any damage caused (before matters are put right).
- Other evidence will still be available – paper evidence, emails, text messages, etc.
- The more quickly you raise your dispute with your opponent, the more likely they are to consider you reasonable.
The law supports this: If a problem develops in something you’ve bought in the first 6 months the law assumes it was present when bought and the person who buys the item does not have to prove this.
Also, the legal right to a refund only lasts for a short period. After that a replacement or repair is all that the law may consider to be a reasonable remedy.
However, the legal time limit for either settling your dispute or for having started the small claim process is generally 6 years (3 years if an injury was caused). However this is a complicated area of law and you should take specific advice on your particular circumstances.
Help writing your complaint letter:
Our £49 and £99 services can be used to give you help writing an effective complaints letter in your name. This can include advice on the strength of your claim, proving it and valuing your losses and expenses. See page 2 for details
TOP TIP - Get a friend to review your letter before sending it!
Disputes can make people angry and this can cloud their judgement – don’t let this happen to you!
By its very nature, there are two sides to every dispute. If your dispute does end up in court a judge will listen patiently to both sides’ arguments. The judge may have sympathy for you but he may also think your opponent has a point too.
Before you start, ask a trusted friend if they think you have a reasonable claim and whether what you are asking for is a reasonable outcome. It is nearly always a matter of common sense:
- Who has acted reasonably or unreasonably?
- Is the other side able to say that you contributed to the problem?
- What are your strongest arguments?
- What is the reasonable middle position (compromise) between the 2 of you?
- What is a fair solution or outcome to the dispute?
- Have you paid for any extra expenses or will you suffer losses that it is reasonable for the other side to cover?
If you have a reasonable claim but can see that your opponent has also got a point on some aspects of the dispute, remember this when working out how much you claim is worth.
TOP TIP - Did you pay by credit card?
If you do not hear back from the other side or you fear they are a business that has stopped trading then you may have an extra option if you paid (at least in part) by credit card.
If you paid at least £100 by credit card direct to the business (not via a middle company such as Amazon Market Place) you have extra protection. You can get your credit card company to pay your claim for your faulty product or a poor service (including refunds or the cost of repairs) together with any extra losses and expenses you have suffered.
Start by sending them a version of your complaint letter starting with words like:
“This letter of complaint relates to a purchase I made using my credit card with you. Under my rights under the Consumer Credit Act I ask that you pay me the sum claimed below with 14 days. My card number is [long card number].”
There are 2 sides to every dispute. Therefore you may receive a complaint letter from the other side before you’ve sent yours.
If you receive a complaint letter:
If you have been sent a complaint letter, you should respond to it. If you think that the claim is wrong, then you should respond and say why.
If you think that they may be right, then it is often best to offer some compensation or agree to their demands. If you are unsure, then contact us. Businesses are also welcome to use our small claim service.
Do your best to respond within the deadlines given to you. If you can’t then write to the other side and tell them when you will be able to respond.
You do not want them to issue court proceedings if this can be avoided, as you can be held liable for some of the costs of doing this. Worse still, you do not want a county court judgment (CCJ) against you.
If you are unsure, then contact us. Businesses are also welcome to use our small claim service.
Sometimes a good complaint letter will do the trick and either the other side will accept that you are being reasonable and agree to what you asked for.
Sometimes they will ring or email back with nearly everything you asked for. You make think it is enough (even though less than you had hoped for) and you will be happy to accept their offer – to put the dispute behind you.
Sometimes they will offer some of what you asked for and by calling or emailing you can nudge them up – a little closer to what you were hoping for. And they will agree to settle the dispute. Remember the dispute is a headache for them as well as for you and they will also often be prepared to give a little ground for the benefit of putting the dispute behind them.
TOP TIP - Take care with “full and final settlement” offers
Your opponent may offer you some money, sending you a cheque.
Think before you bank it. If the covering letter says it is sent in ‘full and final settlement’ of your claim. This means that if you accept it that is the end of your claim and you will not be able to claim any more.
- If it is enough, then that is great news and you can take the money
- If it is not enough you should NOT bank the money. Instead send the cheque back saying:
“The cheque you sent for £** is not enough to settle our dispute. However please let me know if you are happy for me to accept it as a part payment of the amount due (reducing the amount still in dispute)”.
You might also wish to suggest a figure you would now accept just to resolve the claim (perhaps less that your full valuation):
“In an attempt to settle our dispute now, for the next 14 days, I would be prepared to accept £** in full and final settlement. If this is not acceptable to you then I will pursue the full valuation through the small claims court”.
If you do reach agreement then it is sensible to record what was agreed in writing. Your email or letter exchange may be enough but you can send a more formal letter or email, so both sides are clear about what has been agreed:
An example of the type of letter that you might send is:-
Mr Ian Rate
14 Folly Avenue, Bristol BS18 1WS
22nd April 2013
Mr Joe Bloggs
7 High Street,
Bristol BS1 5PJ
Dear Mr Bloggs,
Agreement resolving dispute
Thank you for your letter dated 20 April 2013 [or email or telephone call on ***]
I am pleased to be able to confirm that we have reached agreement to our dispute.
For avoidance of doubt I understand the terms of the agreement reached to be:
Activity by you: (if applicable)
Payment: (if applicable)
Activity by me: (if applicable)
Payment: (if applicable)
Agreed Deadline: (if applicable)
If you carry out your part of this agreement by the agreed deadline, then I will accept this agreement in full and final settlement of the dispute between us.
If you disagree with my understanding of the agreement we have reached, then please let me know in the next 7 days – otherwise I will assume agreement has been reached and I will rely upon this letter as proof of what we agreed.
I am pleased that we have been able to resolve this dispute and look forward to hearing from you with the agreed actions as set out above.
Mediation is often worth trying if:
- Your complaint letter is ignored.
- If you got a reply and can see there are arguments on both sides.
- If the other side says you are entirely to blame for what went wrong
- If the other side offers a compromise but it is not enough for a fair outcome – so you want to negotiate.
What is mediation:
Both sides have to agree to try mediation to resolve the dispute. It is run by an independent company and both sides pay a fee.
A trained mediator is appointed to have separate discussions with both you and the other side to your dispute. And, where possible with both of you together.
The mediator is independent and will not take sides. The mediator will not give legal advice to either side (which is why you should take advice in advance). The mediator controls the discussions – making sure both sides get to have their say.
Unlike a judge, the mediator does not judge you. The mediator’s role is not to find a winner and a loser – instead the mediator seeks to find a solution that both sides could live with. In reality this means that neither side get their “best case” outcome. Both will choose to make concessions for the benefit of the dispute being finished now rather than dragging on though the court system.
Some mediation companies can offer telephone or online mediation. One of these is Small claims Mediation (UK) Limited. They charge an admin fee and will contact the other side for you to see if they will also agree to mediation. If they will they will then arrange the session. Appointments are arranged to suit your needs. Daytime, evening and weekends are available. 80% of cases using this mediation service are resolved within 14 days. The process should end.
Legal advice first
Before you try mediation, it is recommended that you first take legal advice. This is to ensure mediation is suitable for your type of dispute. It also means you can get some help in preparing:
- Working our your strongest arguments,
- Working out what evidence you have to support your version of events
- Wow to calculate and support your claim for losses and expenses.
- Guidance on what a fair outcome might be (so you can assess any offers made in mediation)