Getting started with a complaint is one thing, but what do you do if you’re not happy with how things work out?

I often mention in this column where there is a free Ombudsman or Alternative Dispute Resolution Service (ADR) that you can go to if a business doesn’t sort out your complaint. These schemes are alternatives to the Courts and are designed to be fair and impartial. You don’t lose your right to take legal action too if you use one, in almost all cases (the exception being complaints about some kinds of pensions).

Some of the dispute resolution schemes and mediation through trade organisations get a thumbs down from the people I speak to. But many millions of complaints do get sorted each year. And they’re almost all free, which I thoroughly approve of!

However, disappointingly, there is no alternative but the Courts with many other sectors if you want to take things further.

How many sectors have no Ombudsman or ADR scheme?

The good news is many business sectors have free alternatives to the Courts, including; finance, energy, water, telecommunications and legal services. There are many other schemes covering parking, airlines, vehicles and more.

However, around half of all the business sectors in the UK there is no ombudsman or ADR scheme at all – including Resolver’s most complained about sectors, shopping, delivery couriers and large parts of the online travel industry.

In these circumstances, going to the Small Claims Court may be your only option. I consulted with my fellow TV expert and legal specialist, Gary Rycroft to give you the lowdown.

About the Small Claims Court

The idea of going to Court can be rather intimidating and might seem too expensive to be a realistic option. That’s why the Small Claims Court was set up – to provide people with a cheaper, more accessible route to court action.

So if you’ve lost money as a result of the actions of a business or organisation, bought something that doesn’t work or a service that hasn’t been provided or have had a contract dispute you could bring a case through the Court. It’s not for everything though. You can’t bring expensive claims, disputes over things like slander, or other issues where you would need the services of a solicitor.

How where you live affects your claim

There are variations in the process for making a claim through the courts. The most significant difference is the amount you can claim. In Scotland it’s £5,000. Just for completeness, in England and Wales the maximum is £10,000, and in Northern Ireland it’s £3,000.

You can find out more about the process and get started with an online claim here: Scotland

Despite these differences the whole point of the court is to make things simple, so you don’t pay lots in fees.

How does it work?

The online forms guide you through the process of making a claim and are designed to be as straightforward as possible. The fees for issuing a claim in the Small Claims Court vary by country too – but you can find calculators online that should give you an idea of what you’d need to pay upfront. It can be as little as £35 but if you’re claiming £5,000 to £10,000 you could be looking at £455.

It’s a little more straightforward if you know how much money you are seeking. You’ll be asked to provide details about why you are seeking this sum, what’s happened and what supporting evidence you have.

The process also has the option of mediation – which is definitely worthwhile considering. You can still pursue the case if you are unhappy.

One of the big differences between the Small Claims Court and other types of legal action (or your expectations) is you can’t recover your costs from the other party even if you win (like solicitor’s fees, for example) but you can get back the court fees you’ve spent. Good news though – if you lose, the defendant can’t claim their costs back from you.

Martyn James is a leading consumer rights campaigner, TV and radio broadcaster and journalist.

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