When a device goes wrong within six months of purchase, your first port of call should be the shop from where you bought it.

The problem is that shops have a habit of passing the buck and referring unhappy buyers back to the manufacturer. This is wrong!

So what do you do if you find yourself in this situation? Sue the company.

Don't be frightened by the prospect of taking action; it's really not that hard to do.

Small claims

As long as your claim is less than £5,000, you can make use of the Small Claims procedure in the County Court. This is a semi-informal court process that makes it straightforward for individuals to take on companies.

Not only is it cheap to instigate proceedings, but the other side can't recover legal costs from you if you lose as they would in a normal court. This means that proper legal representation by the other side is unlikely, as it's just too expensive for them.

This alone gives the individual consumer with a genuine grievance a great advantage when dealing with a company. If you want to take this route, the first thing to do is write to the company that you have a problem with, explaining the reasons for your dissatisfaction, what you would like in return and a reasonable timeframe for doing this.

You should also provide notice of your intention to take further action if it does not do as you've asked.

Don't forget to send any correspondence by recorded delivery and keep copies for inclusion in your claim. If this gets you nowhere, carry out your threat and issue proceedings.

The process is simple: the court will issue a claim on your behalf, and this will be sent to the other side. It will contain details of the dispute and the amount of money that you're claiming back from the company.

The details are contained in form 'N1', which you can download from the Court Services website.

This site contains a lot of useful information about making claims, so do spend some time increasing your knowledge about the process there.

The Lawpack site also has useful hints and tips about making a claim, and the Small Claims pages on the CAB website are very good too.

You will be liable for a court fee in order to issue a claim – the sliding scale starts at £30 and rises to £108 if your claim is £5,000 or above. Happily you can add the court fee to the amount that you're claiming, so you'll get it back if you win your case.

When the other side receives your claim they are required to respond within 14 days, either by admitting the claim or entering a defence. If they fail to respond, you should ask the court to enter a default judgement in your favour.

If the other side does submit a defence, a hearing date will then be set. Don't worry – this won't necessarily be held in a court, and wigs and gowns won't be required. Hearings in the small claims 'track' are informal, and strict rules of evidence don't apply.

If you like, you can ask a friend or 'lay representative' to sit with you for moral or legal support. The judge can adopt any method of dealing with the hearing that they consider to be fair.

You ('the claimant') will put forward your case; the other side will put forward their defence; and then the judge will ask questions of both sides. Once all of the arguments have been heard, the judge will decide if there is any cause for compensation.

The reasons for the judgement will normally be given to you there and then, although in complex cases there may well be a second hearing to attend.

As mentioned earlier, the small claims system treats costs slightly differently from the mainstream courts. If you win, then you'll be able to recover any fees in addition to the claim amount.

If you lose, then in most cases you'll only be liable for costs of administering the case, and not the value of the damages claimed.

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First published in PC Plus Issue 288

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