Nobody likes the thought of going to court.

It can be costly, time-consuming and stressful. In fact, wanting to avoid the courtroom is the main reason why many people choose not to bring a small claim – even when they have a strong case.

But what if we said, the chances are, it wouldn’t come to that?

As part of the new civil justice reforms introduced this year, mediation is now a compulsory step in the small claims process for claims up to the value of £10,000. Which means, thousands of cases could bypass the court completely – instead, being resolved with a simple conversation.

Here’s how.

Mediation of small claims

A quicker and less stressful solution.

Following a recent consultation, the government committed to simplifying the processes involved in civil justice cases – and their first crucial step has been to integrate mediation.

The court will no longer be the first port of call.

From this point onwards – before they progress to a court hearing – all small claims valued up to £10,000 will now be referred automatically for a free hour-long mediation session. Which will be provided by a professional mediator from the HM Courts and Tribunals Service (HMCTS).

Mediation is an effective form of alternative dispute resolution, in which a neutral third party communicates between the two opposing parties. Their aim is to assist with negotiations, provide parties with an opportunity to present their offer and (hopefully) help them reach an agreement that everybody is happy with – without having to involve a judge in the decision.

To support these changes, HMCTS plans to expand its Small Claims Mediation Service (SCMS) by recruiting and training additional mediators and updating the necessary technology.

As a result, tens of thousands of people will be given the opportunity to access free mediation. In fact, it’s estimated that up to 92,000 cases per year could benefit – allowing these people to avoid a lengthy, stressful small claims procedure and resolve their dispute away from the court.

Plus, as an added benefit, these new civil justice reforms are predicted to free up nearly 5,000 sitting days per year – therefore substantially boosting court capacity and helping the government to reduce waiting times for more complex cases.

Would mediation work for my small claim?

Mediation can be an effective option for most types of small claims.

The most common disputes include:

  • contracts for goods and services
  • non-payment of professional fees
  • non-payment of rent
  • insurance disputes
  • building disputes
  • debts and unpaid invoices
  • boundary disputes
  • negligence claims

But this certainly isn’t a comprehensive list.

Whether you’re a homeowner suing a builder for failure to deliver a service or a business owner attempting to recover debts from a customer, the exact nature of your issue doesn’t really matter. Almost all civil cases can be mediated under the SCMS, providing its value doesn’t exceed £10,000.

The reality is, most cases that go through the civil courts could be settled with mediation.

You only have to look at the figures to see that it’s an efficient and cost-effective way to successfully resolve disputes. Since it was launched in 2007, overall, the SCMS has settled over half of the small claims that have been referred to it each year within a matter of weeks.

Similar reforms were also introduced earlier this year to mandate mediation for separating families. Approximately 20,000 mediation vouchers have now been distributed as part of this scheme. And in a recent analysis of the first 7200, it was found that 69% of cases reached a full or partial agreement – crucially, without having to involve the court.

Aside from its high success rates, small claims mediation can also offer a range of other benefits:

  • It speeds up access to justice, whilst avoiding the expense of a court hearing.
  • It provides you with greater control, as you have the opportunity to reach an agreement that you’re happy with – rather than it being the decision of the judge. 
  • It’s far less stressful than a court hearing, and as both parties are encouraged to communicate amicably, it can help to preserve your ongoing relationship.

Best case scenario, you can simply reach an agreement and move on with your life.

Or, if mediation doesn’t work, anything discussed is 100% confidential and cannot be referred to at a later date. Meaning, your case can simply be progressed to a court hearing – no harm done.

Do I need a solicitor for small claims mediation?

Small claims (valued at £10,000 or less) unfortunately do not allow for solicitor fees, and the system is specifically designed to be easy to use without having to seek legal advice.

However, despite being ‘small’, such civil cases can still be very complex.

Good preparation is often the key to success, and there could be merit in asking a trained eye to look over the case prior to mediation or even having a specialist accompany you in the mediation session itself. Therefore, it’s still usually advisable to appoint a small claims solicitor.

Here at St Helens Law, we’re more than happy to offer our assistance.

We have a team of expert small claims solicitors, who not only have excellent knowledge and experience of the small claims procedure, but are also skilled mediators – and have helped countless clients to settle their dispute and reach an agreement, without having to step foot inside the courtroom.

To find out more about how we could support your small claim, please don’t hesitate to get in touch. You’re welcome to call us at any time on 01744 742360 or send an email to Alternatively, to request a free no-obligation consultation with our small claims team, simply fill out our online form and we’ll respond as soon as possible.