Guide to EU small claims procedure for cross-border disputes below €2,000

Out-Law News | 17 Sep 2009 | 2:36 pm | 2 min. read

A consumer protection group has published a guide to taking legal action against anybody in the European Union for a fixed cost and without the need to hire lawyers. The guide is designed to help people use the EU's small claims procedure.

The procedure was launched earlier this year and the European Consumer Centre (ECC) has published a guide to its use in cross border trading disputes.

The UK ECC calls it a small claims court, but what the EU introduced was a standardised procedure to be used by all participating court systems.

Consumers in any of the EU's 27 countries can use the procedure to take action against a business they have dealt with in any of the other EU countries. No lawyer is needed and the cost of taking action is fixed, the UK ECC said.

“Suing a trader in a different European country has always had the reputation of being costly, complicated and time consuming," said a spokesman for the UK ECC. "This isn’t the case any more … [the] new European Small Claims Court effectively strengthens consumers’ rights across the EU, because it eliminates the consumer’s need for legal representation in the court and its cost is transparent from the start."

For claims under €2,000 a consumer can fill in a standardised claim form and send it to the court system in England and Wales, Scotland or Northern Ireland, depending where the consumer lives. This saves the consumer from having to take action in foreign courts in foreign languages.

"As a UK consumer making a claim against a trader in a different European country the Jurisdiction [in the claim form] will be 4.2 – Domicile of the consumer (your permanent residence)," says the guide.

If the court agrees that it is appropriate to use the small claims procedure it will give the company 30 days in which to respond. It will then make its ruling within 30 days, according to a description of the process published by the European Commission.

"This judgment is recognised and enforced in other EU countries," said the Commission's description of the process.

“In the past, consumers have been put off of going to court elsewhere in the EU, but this new process can now be used for cross-border cases within the EU," said the UK ECC spokesman. "Courts should always be the last resort and every effort should be made in trying to resolve a complaint yourself before starting your claim through the European Small Claims Procedure.”

The European Union was founded as a trading bloc whose function was to encourage cross border trade. The European Commission has passed EU-wide laws such as the Distance Selling Directive to give cross border consumers, such as those buying from online retailers, additional protection as a way to boost cross border trade.

The EU small claims procedure is limited to claims in which one party is "domiciled or habitually resident" in a member state other than the member state of the court. Some types of claim are excluded, including employment law and defamation claims.