Belfast Telegraph

Northern Ireland small claims court actions and payouts hit record low

Insight: Mick McAteer
Insight: Mick McAteer
Margaret Canning

By Margaret Canning

Small claims actions brought by people and organisations chasing debts of under £3,000 have fallen to a record low in Northern Ireland, new figures show.

Both the value and number of small claims brought to court in the first three months of the year were the lowest ever, according to charity Registry Trust.

But it warned that it was too early to infer from the figures that the economy is in better shape. There were 1,750 small claims judgments in the first three months of 2019, a fall of 22% on the same quarter in 2018.

The total value of claims fell by 15% to £3.7m, though the average value of a claim had increasing by 9% to £2,129.

Small claims judgments can be taken for debts of less than £3,000 and where people have failed to pay up despite being given the opportunity to do so.

There is no need to instruct a solicitor or barrister to take claims in the small claims court.

But Mick McAteer, deputy chairman of Registry Trust, said it was too early to interpret the fall in small claims judgments as a sign that the economy is on the up.

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He said: "What might be happening - and it's hard to say with certainty - is that there could have been spikes in judgment numbers in one quarter, so that the next quarter looks lower.

"Over the past few years, what we saw was big banks selling off their non-performing debts to debt collection companies so there would have been a boost in the number of judgments being taken out, but they have now fallen off.

"It doesn't mean the economy is doing well. It's a technical thing because of the way the market has been and how debt has been sold on."

Registry Trust also said there had been 18 High Court judgments in Northern Ireland in the first quarter, compared to 22 in the first few months of 2018.

The value of judgments was down to £1.8m, with both number and value the lowest first-quarter figures on record. However, the average value of a High Court judgment had increased by 4% to £101,732.

The total value of judgments was £5.6m compared with £6.7m in the first three months of 2018.

Belfast Telegraph