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Does the EU have a small claims court like the UK does?

We look at mechanisms which aim to protect consumer rights

A reader asks whether the EU has an equivalent to the UK’s small claims court Pic: Jack_the_sparow / Shutterstock

Reader Question: In England there is a small claims court. I have been told that there is an equivalent in the European Union. Do you know what it is called? How do you access it and what are the key points for making a correct submission?

The European Union has several bodies aimed at protecting consumer rights. 

One example is the European Consumer Centre (ECC), which is a network of independently-managed offices co-funded by the European Commission. It can help to explain your rights, settle a dispute with a seller based in the EU (or Iceland or Norway), or point you in the right direction of another service if it cannot help with your specific query.

In 2021, the ECC assisted more than 126,000 consumers with tailored information on their case. On more than 20,000 occasions, the ECC also contacted traders to settle a dispute.

The French branch of the ECC can be found here.

Another free service run by the European Commission to find out-of-court resolutions to conflicts related to online trading is the Online Dispute Resolution page. This can help guide you as to the steps to be taken in the case of a dispute with an online trader. 

The platform can be used to contact the trader directly or to agree that a resolution body will solve the issue for you. 

The process can usually be carried out entirely online and normally takes around 90 days.

If you need to take legal action against a firm or an individual over a sum totalling less than €5,000, there is also the European Small Claims Procedure (in French: Procédure européenne de règlement des petites litiges).

You can use the procedure to claim reimbursement for goods or services not provided, such as a faulty product. 

You do not need to use a lawyer to submit a claim. You should apply to your local tribunal judiciaire using Form A (found on this page) and any documents supporting your case.

You can find your nearest competent court here. Once it receives your claim, it will check it and decide whether it is within the scope of the Small Claims Procedure. You might need to complete Form B (found on the page above) if any information is missing.

If your case is accepted, the court will contact the defendant and they will have 30 days in which to reply. Within 30 days of receiving their response, the court will either: 

  • Make a judgement 

  • Ask for more details from you or the defendant 

  • Ask you to attend a hearing

There are some matters not covered by this procedure, including: 

  • Revenue, customs and administrative matters

  • Family rights arising from marriage, wills and successions

  • Social security and employment entitlements 

  • The liability of the state

There is also a process called a European Payment Order, by which a court can order a payment that is – incontestably – owed to someone, to be made by a debtor in another EU country.

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