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County court case track allocations

This content applies to England & Wales

This page looks at the different tracks that a case can be allocated to.

Court allocates a track

Generally, when a case commenced in the county court is defended, the court will allocate it to a particular track, depending on its financial value and complexity.[1] The three tracks are:

  • small claims track[2]
  • fast track[3]
  • multi-track.[4]

In most cases, parties are asked to complete an allocation questionnaire to assist the court in deciding which track to allocate the case to.[5] The form asks claimants which track they consider most suitable for their case.

How the court decides which track to allocate a case to

The factors the court considers when deciding which track it will allocate a case to include the following:[6]

  • financial value of the claim
  • nature of the remedy the claimant is seeking
  • complexity of the case
  • number of parties or likely parties
  • value and complexity of the defendant's counterclaim
  • amount of oral evidence upon which the parties will rely
  • the importance of the claim to persons who are not parties to the proceedings
  • the views expressed by the parties
  • the circumstances of the parties.

In possession cases, the court must also consider:[7]

  • the amount of any arrears of rent or mortgage instalments
  • the importance of vacant possession to the claimant.

When the court has allocated a claim to a track, it will serve a notice of allocation on the parties.

Cases can be re-allocated to a different track if the court considers this appropriate.[8]

Small claims track

The small claims track is intended to be simple enough for people to conduct their own cases without having a legal representative. In general, any straightforward case with a value up to £10,000 (£5,000 for claims started before 1 April 2013)[9] will be dealt with in the small claims track.

Exceptions

However, there are some important exceptions to this rule. The following types of housing cases cannot be allocated to the small claims track:

  • disrepair claims involving a claim for work to be carried out (known as 'specific performance') where either the cost of the work or the value of any damages being claimed exceeds £1,000. See the section on Taking action on disrepair for more information on disrepair cases.
  • claims for injunctions following alleged illegal eviction or harassment or claims for damages for illegal eviction or harassment.[10] For more information specifically about harassment and illegal eviction cases, see the Harassment and antisocial behaviour section.

Claims for possession of land will not be allocated to the small claims track unless all parties agree.[11]

Small track process

Most disputes over return of deposits between landlords and tenants are suitable for the small claims track.

When the claim has been allocated to the small claims track the court will notify the parties of the allocation and will usually give standard directions without holding a hearing. Documents being relied upon must be served at least 14 days before the date fixed for a final hearing.

The notice of allocation will, depending on the case:

  • incorporate standard directions and fix a date, time and place for the final hearing
  • incorporate special directions (ie directions made for that individual case)
  • incorporate special directions and fix a time, date and place for a final hearing
  • fix a date for a preliminary hearing
  • give notice that it proposes to deal with the case without a hearing and request the parties to notify the court if they agree with the proposal.[12]

If a date for a final hearing is fixed, the parties will be given at least 21 days' notice of it.[13] If one of the parties wishes to attend the hearing but has a good reason for not being able to on the date fixed, an application can be made on form N244 for a different hearing date.

There are several consequences of a referral to small claims track:

  • the hearing will take place in the judge's room (see the section on Introduction to court action for information about location of court hearings) and will follow a more informal process
  • the parties have to comply with a more streamlined set of directions (preparatory steps) before the hearing date
  • publicly funded legal representation is not available but advice under the publicly funded legal help scheme is available. In exceptional circumstances, 'help at court' may be available
  • the successful party can usually only recover a limited amount of legal costs (known as fixed costs)[14]
  • the losing party does not run the risk of having to pay her/his opponent's full legal costs.

Fast track

Fast track is generally suitable for claims outside the jurisdiction of the small claims track.

Aim of fast track

The aim of the fast track[15] is to ensure that straightforward cases outside the jurisdiction of the small claims track proceed as quickly as possible.

Claims are likely to be allocated to the fast track where:

  • they do not fall within the small claims track criteria, and
  • the financial value of the claim does not exceed £25,000.[16]

The fast track is the normal track for claims if the court considers:

  • the final hearing is likely to last no longer than a day and
  • oral expert evidence (for example, a surveyor, psychiatrist or engineer) at the final hearing will be limited to one expert per field and no more than two expert fields.[17]

Court directions

Once allocated to the fast track, the court will issue directions for the management of the case, providing for:

  • disclosure of documents (this means each party provides the other with a list of documents in its possession that relate to the case). The rules relating to what documents must be disclosed to the other party can be complex.
  • service of witness statements (service is usually by sending copies to the other side by first class post. Witness statements are usually exchanged simultaneously, that is, both parties serve their statements on each other at the same time).
  • expert evidence
  • the fixing of the final hearing date or a period, not exceeding three weeks, within which the final hearing will take place. The standard period between the giving of directions and the trial will not be more than 30 weeks.[18]

After directions, the court will send the parties a listing questionnaire.[19] This document must be completed by both parties and returned to the court. It contains questions about the number of witnesses and experts each party will be relying on at the final hearing and allows the court to allocate sufficient time for the final hearing. It is also a way of ensuring that everyone is ready for the final hearing and any outstanding matters are dealt with. The case will then proceed to the final hearing.

A trial bundle will be required not less than seven days before the final hearing. This contains copies of all the court papers, documents and witness statements that the parties are relying on, paginated in a file with an index.[20] It is the responsibility of the claimant to put the trial bundle together. A separate bundle must be provided for both the court and the defendant.

Multi-track

The multi-track, which is generally suitable for high-value, lengthy, or complex cases.

The multi-track[21] is intended for cases:

  • with either a value of over £25,000
  • where the estimated length of the trial is more than one day
  • where the complexity of the law, facts and evidence of the case are such that the small claim and fast tracks are inappropriate.[22]

Cases using the Part 8 alternative procedure are initially automatically allocated to the multi-track. The court will notify the parties of allocation to the multi-track on the notice of allocation.

When it allocates a case to the multi-track, the court will give directions for the management of the case and set a timetable or fix a case management conference or a pre-trial review or both.[23] The court will fix the trial date as soon as is practicable.[24] The multi-track does not offer any standard procedures for how the claim is to be progressed and allows the court to use a variety of case management tools.[25]

Directions are likely to cover further information, disclosure of documents and exchange of witness statements and experts' reports and include a timetable for specific steps to be taken by the parties prior to the hearing. The parties may receive a listings questionnaire if the court considers it necessary.[26] The questionnaire enables the court to decide whether to fix a pre-trial review.

When costs are awarded, the court will take into account the conduct of the parties during the court action, including whether they kept to the timetable set by the court.

[1] Civil Procedure Rules, rule 26.

[2] Civil Procedure Rules, rule 27.

[3] Civil Procedure Rules, rule 28.

[4] Civil Procedure Rules, rule 29.

[5] Civil Procedure Rules, Part 26 and Practice Direction 26.

[6] Civil Procedure Rules, rule 26.8.

[7] Civil Procedure Rules, rule 55.9.

[8] Civil Procedure Rules, rule 26.10.

[9] Civil Procedure Rules, rule 26.6, as amended by Civil Procedure (Amendment) Rules 2013 SI 2013/262.

[10] Civil Procedure Rules, rule 27.1.

[11] Civil Procedure Rules, rule 55.9.

[12] Civil Procedure Rules, rule 27.4(1).

[13] Civil Procedure Rules, rule 27.4(2).

[14] Civil Procedure Rules, rules 27.14 and 45.

[15] Civil Procedure Rules, rule 28.

[16] Civil Procedure Rules, rule 26.6(4).

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

[18] Civil Procedure Rules, rule 28.2.

[19] Civil Procedure Rules, rule 28.5.

[20] Civil Procedure Rules, Practice Direction 28.

[21] Civil Procedure Rules, rule 29.

[22] Civil Procedure Rules, rule 26.6.

[23] Civil Procedure Rules, rule 29.2(1).

[24] Civil Procedure Rules, rule 29.2(2).

[25] Civil Procedure Rules, rule 29.2 and 29.3.

[26] Civil Procedure Rules, rule 29.6(1).

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