HAzel Rose’s casket was supposed to have been adorned with her favorite spring flowers for her funeral in March of last year. But she was sent to rest in a bare coffin when her sheaf, ordered from a London florist, failed to arrive. A year later, her family is still waiting for a refund, despite taking her case to small claims court.
“It was extremely distressing for the family when my mother’s flowers did not arrive and it would have been a comfort to have the case resolved by the first anniversary of her death,” said Hazel’s daughter, Andrea.
Instead, she and her brother, Anthony, have so far spent £143 in court fees to try to reclaim the £110 they paid for the flowers. Andrea says that principles rather than money have motivated her long battle. The company disputes the claim and says it was given an incorrect time for delivery.
The case exposes gaps in legal protections for consumers and underscores why some advocates say the county court money claims system is not fit for purpose.
A county court money claim is the last resort for customers left out of pocket when a merchant fails to deliver. The customer files a claim with the court and pays a fee, starting at £35, and a letter is sent to the merchant asking them to pay. If he doesn’t, the client can ask for a trial.
If the court finds in favor of the client, a County Court Judgment (CCJ) is issued, ordering the defendant to pay the debt plus associated costs and appropriate compensation. This CCJ will ruin your credit history for six years, but it is not a criminal offense for defendants to ignore the court ruling. If they do, claimants must pay additional fees to enforce it with no certainty of success. For claims worth less than £300, the cost of pursuing the defendant may exceed the amount you owe.
Figures from the Registry Trust show that just 16% of FTCs in England and Wales were recorded by the courts as satisfied between 2020 and 2021, meaning the vast majority were unpaid. There is no data on how many orders were resolved without informing the courts.
According to Arun Chauhan, the founder of Tenet Law, the system is not suitable for claims under £3,000. “My experience is that the process, time, stress and money involved is blown out of proportion, certainly against dishonest traders who know the chase to get money back is often daunting, so people just let it slide.” said. “There should be a faster system with an automated recovery process that uses bailiffs if the defendant does not provide evidence to the court that he has paid.”
More than 50% of small claims issued between 2018 and 2021 were for £500 or less, and in January a Civil Justice Council report called for reforms to the low value claims process, including streamlined hearings and better information for litigants. . . However, the proposals do not address the fact that most FTCs are dishonest.
In the Roses’ case, a CCJ last May ordered the florist, Clapham Flowers, to pay Andrea £1,000, including £60 court costs and compensation. No payment was received and in August Andrea applied for a control order so that the bailiffs could enforce the debt. Three months later, Clapham Flowers tried unsuccessfully to have the CCJ dismissed. That was the last the family heard from either the florist or the court until Observer intervened in February.
“When we called the court to inquire about the progress of the order, a recorded message said that the phone service is down and inquiries should be emailed,” Andrea said. “We sent six emails with no response.”
A control order was issued six months after Andrea’s request when the Observer he contacted the Ministry of Justice and a bailiff visited Clapham Flowers. A month later, he received an undated, unsigned letter from the court stating that the bailiff had been unable to meet with the debtor and enter peacefully. Meanwhile, an email from the sheriff claimed that he had visited the store but found nothing of value to seize.
Aimee Emmett, manager of Clapham Flowers, said Andrea had misinformed staff about the funeral arrangements, that the CCJ was sent to the wrong address, that she was unaware of the hearing that dismissed her appeal and that she was contesting the lawsuit. payment left by the bailiff
Her Majesty’s Tribunals and Tribunals Service said: “We apologize for the frustrating experience this family has had and would like to reassure others that our staff work hard to help the public claim the money they are owed.”
The service said its goal was to cut red tape to free up more resources to fund sheriff’s action. It suggested that claimants should apply for an Order to Obtain Information to establish the debtor’s assets and decide which method would be most effective in enforcing a CCJ. However, enforcement is only effective if the defendant has sufficient assets to cover the debt. Sole traders can have their private possessions seized, but limited company directors cannot be held personally liable.
Control orders issued by a superior court are more effective than county court orders, as they are enforced by private companies that charge for results and have the authority to break into business premises. However, they can only be issued for debts over £600 and the fees, which can be claimed from the debtor, can exceed £700, plus 7% of the sum recovered.
Andrea says that the system has let her family down. “The fact that the florist did not deliver flowers for her funeral has been compounded by the fact that the courts did not act in accordance with the sentences they issued,” she said.
Repair ended in despair
Jacqueline McBride has £11,555 out of pocket because a garage owner liquidated her business after she obtained a CCJ. She had made a claim for money against MOT 4U, trading as Westbere Garage in Canterbury, after she failed to return a mobile home she took in for repair nearly two years ago.
“The director, Ernest Biela, has prevented me from picking up my vehicle [and] he refused to give me an invoice detailing the work he claims to have done,” he said. “He did not defend himself when I filed a claim in county court and he has since ignored the CCJ granted last September. When the bailiffs were instructed, they were informed that Mr. Biela had placed the company in voluntary liquidation due to my claim. He was planning to sell the RV to finance essential upkeep on my home, but I don’t seem to have anyone to turn to.”
Biela, director of three similarly named and two dissolved firms registered at the same address, said the dispute concerned additional repairs authorized by a third party while McBride was in hospital and said he would now be willing to participate in mediation. “I’ve never tried to shirk the responsibility of caring for a customer’s vehicle, but the waters have been muddied by hype,” he said.