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Costs in different tracks

This content applies to England & Wales

Costs in the small claims, fast and multi tracks.

Court cases are allocated to one of three different tracks under which claims can be brought, depending on the amount of the claim and the anticipated length of the hearing. Different rules apply with regard to costs for each of these tracks (which are the small claims track, fast track and multi-track.)

Costs in the small claims track

In general, civil claims that do not exceed £10,000 are allocated to the small claims track. It is very rare for possession cases to be allocated to the small claims track if the fast track costs regime applies (see below). However, this may happen where the trial costs are within the discretion of the judge.

Disrepair cases are allocated to the small claims track where the cost of works and the value of any damages claimed is under £1,000.

In cases allocated to the small claims track, each side bears most of her/his own legal costs. This is because the small claims procedure is designed to enable individuals to litigate in person, without using a solicitor, or other legal representative. It is possible for the judge in a small claims case to make an order that the losing party pay some of the other side's costs. However, where this happens the only costs recoverable are:[1]

  • fixed costs involved in issuing the claim
  • loss of earnings and travel costs of the party or witnesses attending the hearing
  • expert's fees
  • court fees.

If a party has behaved unreasonably, for example, making unnecessary applications or refusing to co-operate, the court could order that party to pay the other side's costs. In this situation, costs would be assessed immediately (ie at the hearing), against the party who is considered to have behaved unreasonably. In addition, the Court of Appeal has held that, at least in disrepair cases, it may be appropriate to award pre-allocation costs for legal advice where the landlord has not fulfilled certain obligations to repair a premises before a claim but takes certain measures to resolve the issue of disrepair before the case is allocated to a track. This is a practical measure to ensure that a tenant is able to recover reasonably incurred costs where their case ends up in the small claims court but, had repairs not been undertaken, it would have been a fast-track issue due to the provisional level of damages. [2]

Generally, a case in the small claims track presents less of a risk than in any of the other types of court case, and in some cases worth about £1,000 it is sensible to limit the claim to £1,000.

Costs in the fast track

The fast track is the normal track for any claim between £10,000 and £25,000, provided that the final hearing is not likely to last for more than one day. The idea of the fast track is to enable relatively straightforward matters to be dealt with within the one-day limit.

There are fixed amounts that a solicitor can claim as costs for preparing for, and appearing at the trial in a fast track case.[3] The court has a limited power to award more or less than these fixed amounts. The court may, for example, award an additional amount in respect of a party's legal representative attending the trial where necessary to assist the advocate.[4]

Costs in multi-track cases

The multi-track is the normal track for any claim for which the small claims track or the fast track is not the normal track.[5] This track applies to cases with a value exceeding £25,000 and the estimated time for the trial is longer than in the other two tracks. Although cases on the small claims and the fast tracks will always be in a county court, multi-track cases may be in either the High Court or county court. The costs limits that apply to small claims and fast track cases do not usually apply to multi-track cases, so the paying party must pay those costs that are reasonable and proportionate.[6]

Fixed costs

There are a number of specific circumstances in which the court rules state that costs will be fixed at a certain level. These include, for example:

  • a money claim in which the claimant is able to enter judgment because the defendant has not defended the case, or the claimant obtains a summary judgment[7]
  • costs incurred in enforcing a judgment[8]
  • possession cases, dealt with in the section costs in specific cases.

The fixed costs can be disapplied by the court, which can allow higher costs claims.[9]

[1] Civil Procedure Rules, rule 27, Practice Direction 27 - Small Claims Track.

[2] Birmingham CC v Lee [2008] EWCA Civ 891.

[3] Civil Procedure Rules, rule 46.

[4] Civil Procedure Rules, rule 46.3.

[5] Civil Procedure Rules, rule 26.6(6).

[6] Civil Procedure Rules, rules 43, 44, 47 and 48.

[7] Civil Procedure Rules, rule 45.1 - 45.4.

[8] Civil Procedure Rules, rule 45.6.

[9] Civil Procedure Rules, rule 45.1(1).

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