The Small Claims Tribunal (SCT) was set up to facilitate the resolution of claims that may arise between consumers and suppliers. As it is meant to be an affordable and expedient way to settle certain matters without resorting to litigation, legal representation for matters under the SCT is not allowed, making it crucial that you are familiar with the basics of how claims under the SCT are likely to proceed. In this article, we discuss the kind of claims that can be heard by the Small Claims Tribunal and the process for the hearing of such claims.
What kind of claims can be heard by the Small Claims Tribunal (SCT)?
Before commencing a claim under SCT, you should know whether your matter falls within the SCT’s jurisdiction. This is based on the following 3 criteria:-
(1) Monetary limit
The amount that is being claimed under SCT is generally capped at $20,000.00.
However, a claim and/or counterclaim for up to $30,000.00 may also be heard if both parties are agreeable and file a Memorandum of Consent online. This Memorandum of Consent formally records the agreement between parties to bring the claim under the purview of the SCT, provided that all other criteria are also met.
(2) Time limit
The claim must be filed within 2 years of the date on which the cause of action accrued. The date on which the cause of action accrued refers to the date on which certain facts or events occurred which gave rise to a right to sue.
For example, if a contract had set out that the final deadline for payment was 1 January 2020 and the party who is to make such payment fails to do so accordingly, the date on which the cause of action accrued would be 1 January 2020.
(3) Subject matter
At present, the SCT only hears claims relating to the following subject matter:-
- Contract for sale of goods;
- Contract for the provision of services;
- Tort relating to property damage (save for such damage arising out of a motor vehicle accident);
- Contract for lease of residential premises (up to 2 years);
- Recovery of certain charge or interest by owner-developer;
- Recovery of certain contribution or interest by management corporation;
- Recovery of certain improvement contribution, interest or penalty by HDB;
- Recovery of certain subscription by Council of Singapore Business Federation;
- Recovery of certain improvement contribution, interest or penalty by Town Council; and
- Recovery of certain charges, fees, expenses or penalties by Town Council.
If you are unsure about whether your claim meets the above criteria, you may wish to carry out a Pre-Filing Assessment here.
Process for making a claim under the SCT
Step 1: Filing documents
To commence a claim under SCT, a person must file their claim online through the Community Justice and Tribunals System (CJTS) portal. The person who files a claim is called a “Claimant”.
The person against whom a claim has been filed is called a “Respondent”. The Respondent has the right to file a Counterclaim against the Claimant if they also have a cause of action against the Claimant, such as if it appears that the Claimant owes the Respondent money and/or performance.
Kindly note that there are filing fees involved, and the amount of fees payable depends on the amount that is being claimed in the claim or Counterclaim, beginning at $10 for an individual claimant for up to $5,000.00.
Step 2: Consultation
After the required documents in respect of a claim have been filed, the Court will arrange for parties to attend a Consultation before a Registrar. The purposes of this consultation are twofold:
Court to determine whether the SCT does have jurisdiction over the matter
In the event that the court determines that the SCT does not have jurisdiction over the matter, such as when any of the 3 criteria above have not been met, the court will issue a Discontinuance Order. This means that any proceedings in the SCT for the matter will come to an end. At this juncture, the claimant and/or the respondent are free to pursue the matter in another way, such as by commencing a civil suit or proposing private mediation.
Parties to discuss the possibility of an amicable settlement
If a settlement is reached on any or all of the outstanding issues at the Consultation, the Court will issue a Consent Order that records the agreement reached by parties, which is then legally binding on the parties.
Step 3: Hearing (in the event of no settlement)
In the event the parties are unable to reach a settlement on any outstanding issue(s), the Court may direct for parties to appear at a hearing before the Tribunal Magistrate. To prepare for the hearing, you should put together a strong case for your claim and gather any relevant documents and/or evidence, such as contracts, invoices, receipts and any communications between parties.
The Tribunal Magistrate will then make a determination on the matter and issue the relevant orders. Examples of orders that may be issued are:
- Money Orders: where one party shall pay the other party a sum of money in accordance with the arrangement and deadline stated in the Order (e.g., A shall pay B $3,000 by 30 January 2021);
- Work Order: where one party shall carry out certain work for the purpose and in the manner and by the deadline stated in the Order (e.g., A shall fix the defects in the window ledge that had been installed by A at B’s property by 30 January 2021);
- Order for Vacant Possession: where a tenant shall vacate certain rented premises and deliver all keys and/or documents to the landlord by the deadline(s) stated in the Order.
What happens if a party does not appear at the consultation and/or the hearing?
If you are absent from the proceedings, the Court has the discretion to make orders in default of your appearance (also known as default orders). If you are a Claimant who does not appear, the Court may simply dismiss your claim altogether. If you are a Respondent that does not appear, the Court has the discretion to issue a Default Order in favour of the Claimant.
What happens after an order is made at the SCT?
An order made by the SCT is final and binding, and parties are thus bound to comply with the terms of the order. Accordingly, an appeal to the High Court would only be applicable in exceptional circumstances, such as if there is a question of law involved or if the claim is alleged to have been outside SCT’s jurisdiction.
If you are of the view that the SCT does have jurisdiction over your matter, you may file an appeal against the Discontinuance Order via CJTS under “Appeal against Order of Registrar”.
Money order OR if parties agree for any of them to pay the other a sum of money
In the event that any party fails to make payment of the ordered sum, the other party seeking payment (also known as a Judgment Creditor) may wish to commence enforcement proceedings against the party that had failed to make the payments (also known as a Judgment Debtor) such as:
- Writ of Seizure and Sale: where a court bailiff may enter the Judgment Debtor’s premises and seize the Judgment Debtor’s moveable property. If the Judgment Debtor does not pay up within 7 days, the Judgment Creditor can proceed to sell the seized moveable property and recover the money owed from the sale proceeds; and
- Garnishee proceedings: where the court may order the Judgment Debtor’s bank to pay the Judgment Creditor the outstanding sum from the Judgment Debtor’s bank account.
However, do note that enforcement proceedings are separate from the SCT, and they are likely to entail substantial legal costs and time.
You may apply to have the order set aside via CJTS under “Set Aside Application”. This application must be made within 1 month of the date of the order. The court would then fix a hearing for the said application, at which the court will determine whether the Default Order is to be set aside.
It is fair to say that while the Small Claims Tribunal (SCT) is meant to be a quick way to resolve certain claims, going through the SCT process on your own can still be daunting. As such, it may be worthwhile consulting a lawyer who can assist you at different stages of your claim under SCT.
- Firstly, a lawyer can help with explaining your claim and other legal options that may be on the table.
- Secondly, a lawyer can then advise you on how to prepare for the consultation and/or hearing. For example, a lawyer may advise you on crucial pieces of evidence that should be brought before the court.
- Thirdly, a lawyer can help to set out your legal options after an order is granted in or against your favour in the SCT. Again, having a lawyer on your side helps to ensure that the process is as painless as possible.
Please get in touch should you require any further assistance in this area.