IN 2009, I found myself owed a small sum of money (just a few hundred euros) by a large and internationally well-known French company that had failed to honour a small
contract with me.
On presenting my invoice for payment, I was given the runaround for several months, being repeatedly asked for different documents, being requested to resend all my papers to a different accounts department representing certain divisions of the corporation, being told that I had not complied with their supplier procedure formalities (which had never previously been disclosed to me) and so on.
Finally my patience ran out and I sent them a formal mise en demeure letter by recorded delivery with advice of receipt. I discovered quite easily from the internet how such a "letter before action" had to be worded to be effective. The point is that, without such a letter being first sent, no French court will entertain a claim.
My letter was ignored, so after the time period given by that letter had expired, I applied to the local greffier for a summons to be served on this defaulter.
I again discovered quite easily from the internet how to make this application (equivalent to a UK small claims court procedure), and was even able to download the application form and instructions on how to fill it in.
There was no fee payable and, after a couple of weeks, I received a copy of the summons, giving a hearing date some two weeks ahead at the tribunal, and also confirming that the summons had been served by the tribunal on the defendant debtor.
Within two days, I received a telephone call from a director of the company apologising for the "confusion", promising to send a cheque immediately and begging me to
withdraw the summons.
I informed him that I would be happy to do so on receipt of payment, which duly arrived a couple of days later (for the debt, plus a small extra sum to cover my trouble and inconvenience), and was honoured by the debtor company’s bank.
I then withdrew the proceedings by letter to the greffier.
This was a success for me, and I suspect would work well for others, too, but there are of course no guarantees.
Still, it is useful to know that there is a free small claims procedure such as this in existence, which can be accessed by private individuals, who also have the right to plead their case at the tribunal without having to pay to be represented by a lawyer.