About the Small Claims Court
Travel Agents and particularly Tour Operators are notoriously bad at putting right problems and claims for compensation based on their failure to honour the conditions of their contract. What they sell is not as clear cut as the car or fridge that is unfit for purpose, but the problems arising from a poor product are just as problematical for the traveller/tourist. Over the years we have been instrumental in assisting large numbers of travellers in securing compensation and in the majority of cases, compensation has only been paid after proceedings were started in the court. On only one occasion has the case actually gone to court, with the defendant setling before proceedings got to court in all other cases. Why do they do so? The answer is that the sums of money involved are not sufficiently large to warrant the bad publicity arising from a court appearance. Generally they will 'bluff' to the point where proceedings are started, but stop at that point.
If you have exhausted all prospects of reaching a compensation agreement with a defaulting travel agent or tour operator and you have not been successful with efforts through ABTA (generally they are of very little help), your only course of action may be to initiate action to recover through the County Court under the Small Claims Procedure. Actions to recover can be made for debts of under £5,000 and, in addition to claims for monies owed, the court will hear claims founded on breach of contract, the usual basis for claims against tour operators who fail to deliver what they have promised. (See also Supply of Goods and Services Act 1982 as amended by the Sale and Supply of Goods Act 1994)
To bring an action under the Small Claims Procedure, you need to complete a form at the local County Court, giving your details and those of the person against whom the claim is made. You do not need a Solicitor and it is unlikey that the procedure will be beyond the capability of most consumers. If you do have a problem, the local Citizens Advice Bureau will certainly be able to help. The court form will detail the nature of your claim, the amount you are claiming and whether you are claiming any interest. You will have to supply a copy of all relevant paperwork for the court, and one for the person against whom you are making the claim
The Court will affix a seal to the papers and send them to your opponent, along with a form to defend the claim, another form to admit the claim and a third form on which they must acknowledge receipt of the papers.
When the person against whom you are making the claim responds, the Court will send you a copy along with instructions on what you should do next. Alternatively, the court may fix a date when you will have to appear before a judge who will tell you what the next stages are.
Small claims hearings almost never last more than a day, but the court can deal with your claim without holding a hearing, an may simply consider the documents in the case. If this course of action is to be taken, the court will inform both partie. The court can also deal with the case by way of a telephone link, if you and the defending party both agree.