The actual cost for you to bring a claim will include:
court fees, if you have to pay them,
expert’s fees, if you use an expert,
postage and photocopying expenses,
travel to court for you and your witnesses,
loss of earnings for you and your witnesses because of time spent attending court, and
the value of your time in preparing your case.
The other side will also have some or all of these costs. They may also have the legal cost of employing solicitors and barristers to represent them. This is highly likely if they are an organisation or are covered by insurance, rather than an uninsured individual.
The general rule is that the loser will contribute towards the winner’s costs of the claim. However, the judge can make a different order if appropriate, and the opportunity to recover costs from the losing party is more limited in small claims and fast track claims.
The rules about legal costs can be complicated. This is a summary of the things you should bear in mind at the start of a claim, but you can find more details in our guide Legal Costs and who pays them.
If you win a small claim, the court will order the other side to pay you the cost of your court fees, any loss of earnings for you and your witnesses in attending court, and travel expenses to get to court for the hearing. You will not get any award to compensate you for the time you have spent preparing your case. If you have been given permission to use an expert (this is rare in small claims) you will not get back more than £200 towards the cost.
If you lose a small claims case, the court will order you to pay the other side's court fees, their loss of earnings for attending court, and their travel costs. If they have had permission to use an expert’s report (this is rare in small claims) you will not be expected to pay more than £200 towards its cost.
No-one will be expected to pay the other side's full legal costs unless they have behaved unreasonably (for example, unreasonably caused a last-minute adjournment). This means that if the other side has employed solicitors to defend the case, and you have behaved reasonably, you will not be expected to pay for those costs if you lose.
Fast track claims
A fast track claim is one worth between £10,000 and £25,000, or a personal injury claim worth under £25,000, where the injury element is worth over £1,000, or a housing disrepair claim worth under £25,000 where the cost of repairs is worth over £1,000.
If you win a 'fast track' claim the court will normally order the other side to pay your legal costs including the cost of preparing for the case, and expert's fees, as well as the costs that it can order in a small claim. If you are a litigant in person, you can claim preparation costs (that is, for the time you have spent researching, getting your evidence together, preparing documents, attending court and so on) at a rate of £19 per hour. If you can prove higher actual financial loss you will be entitled to that higher hourly rate for time reasonably spent preparing. You will need to show evidence of your loss of earnings to get a higher rate. It means you need to keep a careful note as you go along showing how much time you have spent on each stage, and what you spent the time doing.
If you lose a fast track claim (one which isn’t a personal injury case), you will almost certainly be ordered to pay a sum to the other side for their legal costs. This can amount to many thousands of pounds, especially if they are legally represented by solicitors and barristers. These legal costs could easily exceed the amount that your dispute is about.
Costs in personal injury and road traffic claims
There are different rules on costs in personal injury and road traffic claims – see our separate guide on Legal Costs and who pays them.
Legal aid for civil claims
Legal aid is a government scheme – a means tested benefit to help you pay for legal advice and help, representation and family mediation. Sometimes it can also pay for things like an expert’s advice or court fees.
The rules about who can get legal aid and for what changed in 2013. But some people can still get legal aid. Before you decide to take action alone, whether as a claimant or a defendant, find out if you can get legal aid to pay for a lawyer to help you.
Whether or not you can get legal aid depends on what legal problem you have, how much money you earn, what property you own, and your chances of success.
You can find more information about legal aid, what it is, when it is available and who can get it by taking a look at Getting help to pay for legal advice about a civil (non-criminal) legal problem.
Check whether you are eligible for legal aid.
Other funding for civil claims
Conditional fee agreement
You may have heard these called ‘no win, no fee’ agreements. They are a contract between you and your lawyer which means your lawyer will only get paid for their work if you win your case. You still have to pay the other side’s costs if you lose. If you don’t have the money but aren’t eligible for legal aid or legal aid isn’t available in your case and you don’t have any legal expenses insurance (see below), then a conditional fee agreement may be the only way you can fund your claim.
These agreements are another way of funding litigation and are similar to a conditional fee agreement. But with these agreements if your case is successful, the lawyer’s fee is calculated as a percentage of what you win. If you lose, no fee is payable to the lawyer.
Legal expenses insurance
This is also known as ‘Before the event’ insurance and is often added to car, household contents and buildings insurance policies. It can also come as a benefit attached to some credit cards. Check your policies to see if you have it. A lawyer or other adviser should be able to check the terms and conditions of any legal expenses insurance you have and tell you what it will and won’t cover. You may find you have access to free legal advice on a range of subjects including making a civil claim. It’s also possible your insurer may cover the cost of your claim. Contact them and ask.
Trade Union or professional organisation
If you are a member of a Trades Union or other professional organisation you may have access to free or discounted legal services as part of your membership. Check your Union or professional organisation's website for details.