The Law

Suing a foreign trader (which is based in a EU country) in England

If you are consumer and you have bought goods from a trader based in another EU country, you can sue them in England using a special “European Small Claims Procedure”. You do not have to sue the trader in their country.

Although you can sue the trader here in England and you may win, you still have the problem of making them pay if they choose not to do so. The laws which allows you to sue in England wil not help you in getting the trader to pay. You will still need to use the legal system in the trader's country to do this if it refuses to pay after your have got your court judgment.

This is very like the small claims procedure found here, but with a few significant differences:

  • your case is likely to dealt with by a judge based only on the documents you provide to her or him (ie there will be no hearing)
  • if you lose you may have to pay the other side's legal and other costs

Generally about suing a company not based in England

Generally there are 3 ways of suing someone if you have bought goods or services from someone who is based in another country:

  • Suing them in their own country. (Key problems: you will need to know the language, court system, legal system, may have to visit and stay in the country for a number of days)
  • Suing them here in England using the English court system (Key problems: once you have obtained judgment you will need to have the judgment recognised in their country and then enforced; the court may decide it needs to know the law of the country in which the company is based)
  • Suing them here in England using the special European Small Claims Procedure (Key problems: you will need to have the judgment enforced in that country if they do not pay)

Key differences between using the English and European small claims

Issue English small claims procedure European small claims procedure
How much can you claim? 5000 €2,000 (about £1,775)
Hearing or in writing? Your claim is normally dealt with at a hearing Your claim normally dealt with in writing only
Forms? Use Form N1 Use special court form. Online version of the claim form (but you will still need to print to paper and then send or take to a court).
Do you have to pay the trader's legal and other costs if you lose? No.

This is the default (although you would normally need to pay any court fees, expert evidence, travel and loss of wage costs). You would not normally (and as long as you have behaved reasonably) pay the legal costs of the other side.

Potentially yes.

If you are unsuccessful then you will be responsible for paying the cost of proceedings (including the other sides legal costs, translation costs etc).

But the costs incurred by the seller of the goods must be necessarily incurred and not disproportionate.

Which law will apply? English law

This is not specified. If the law of the country of the foreign company is specified then it will decided on that country's law.

Will it make any difference how I prepare my case? In England, you need to provide an outline (at least) of what your case is about (when you submit your claim). You will then provide all the documents you will rely to the other side and the court.

As there will be a hearing you can go through your case orally and call witnesses etc the hearing.

As the default procedure is that the case is decided only use written materials, you will need to provide more information (and therefore do more preparation) before you start your case.


1. What your case is about

2. The documents which prove your case

3. If you have any witness, they will need to write what they would have said in court

4. A detailed statement setting out why you believe you are right (linking to 2. and 3.

However, the judge can ask you questions, obtain further evidence from you or hold a hearing if needs be (and where appropriate use video technology to do so).

Can I start my claim online? You can start you claim online (as well as by post or at a court). You can start claim by post or at a court. You cannot start the claim online
What court procedures are used? The special procedures for small claims are used (less formal). The small claim procedures are used too.
What are the fees for starting a claim The amount you pay is determined how much you are claiming. The amounts are in a set out in a leaflet produced by the English courts. The fees are calculated in the same way.
What happens if you win and the trader does not pay? You get a court judgment. If the loser refuses to pay you need to use further methods to get payment (such as bailiffs, etc You get a court judgment which is automatically recognised in other European countries.

If you win and the company does not pay

If use the European Small Claims Procedure and you win, you still need to be paid by the company. If they do not pay, what can you do?

In England, where this occurs, you would need to use available methods of enforcement, principally, if the trader is a company, the use of a bailiff.

In normal litigation, where you have to enforce a court order made in England in another country you normally have to first have it recognised in that country and then you have to enforce it. With the European Small Claims Procedure you will not need to have it recognised in the country (as long as you tick the right box when you start claim). But you will still need to try to enforce it. This may involve having the court order translated into the language of the country in which the company is based, and also pay the other charges and costs which are normally payable in that country for enforcing the judgment.

(Legal) Sources of information

There is specific English law which details the European Small Claims Procedure. The European Small Claims Procedure Regulation is used directly together with Civil Procedure Rules which contains information on how the Regulation applies to the English court system.

Accordingly the sources of information are:

Civil Procedure Rules, CPR 78.12 to 78.22, and the practice direction to CPR 78, 78.10 to 78.21.

The Ministry of Justice provide a leaflet which give details on using the European Small Claims Procedure.

For a guide on making a claim and filling in the claim form available from the UK European Consumer Centre.

The Regulation is linked from the page from which the Practice Direction is set out. This is as a pdf in small type. A different and more easy to read version is available on the EU website as a web page.

The forms needed to make a claim are not available as such from the Ministry of Justice website (other than at the end of the Regulation linked to by the Practice Direction). But they are available from the EU website dealing with the European Small Claims Procedure. You start a claim (Form A) using an online form. You will still need to print the form to paper and then send it by post or take it to the court (with your fee and supporting documentation