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Small Claims “Cheat Sheet”: Initiating and Responding to a Claim

Richard B. Johnson

Co-Founder + Partner
November 4, 2021

By Richard Johnson with contribution and research by Paralegal, Jade Harvey

Please note that this article is intended as information and not legal advice. The information in this article is current as of the date of first publication on November 3, 2021, and is subject to change at any time with legislative and procedural amendments, etc. Please inquire with the Provincial Court to ensure that this information remains valid at the time of your matter.

Finally, if you have questions about your matter, we recommend you seek legal advice about your case.

Small Claims in General

In many cases, claimants choose to represent themselves in small claims actions since that can be more cost-effective than hiring legal counsel over issues that are relatively simple in nature. However, representing yourself in legal proceedings can often times feel overwhelming and extremely difficult. Therefore, we wanted to put together this series of “Small Claims Cheat Sheets” to assist self-represented litigants understand the BC Provincial Court Small Claims  processes to help them represent their own interests effectively.

Small claims court is often colloquially called “the people’s court” because it is intended to provide a forum for litigants to bring forward matters for determination without unduly complicated processes or significant legal fees or expenses. However, as we describe below, there are some very important considerations and limitations to be aware of when pursuing a case in small claims and if an issue is complex, having advice or even legal representation may be beneficial.

Jurisdiction and Considerations

The Provincial Court of British Columbia handles small claims lawsuits for the following issues:

·         Debts owed between $5,001.00 and $35,000.00;

·         Damages for personal injury (other than motor vehicle accident injuries) up to $35,000.00;

·         To order the return of your property (excluding land) of a value between $5,001.00 and $35,000.00;

·         Obtaining a Court Order requiring an individual to complete a contract for goods/services to a value between $5,001.00 and $35,000.00; and

·         Obtaining a Court Order to stop an individual suing you for your property (excluding land), to a value between $5,001.00 and $35,000.00.

The Small Claims Rules govern the procedure of the Provincial Court and can be found here.

Filing a Notice of Claim

The first step to initiate a claim in the Provincial Court Small Claims registry is to file a Notice of Claim. By initiating an action, you become the “claimant”. In order to file a Notice of Claim, the claimant will need the following information about the defendant:

a)      Details of the incident or the transaction which led to the claim; and

b)      Their personal or business address, depending on what sort of claim you are pursuing. If the defendant is a company: You need to ensure that you have the correct business name. This can be obtained by doing a corporate search.

This information will be required to complete the Notice of Claim. This can be completed using the above-linked PDF form. This Notice of Claim needs to be filed in the Court Registry nearest to the location of a) or b) above. A copy will be returned to the claimant with a Court stamp indicating the date of filing. This is known as a filed Notice of Claim.

As of August 16, 2021, two further documents are also required at the time of filing a Notice of Claim:

1.      An Address for Service setting out your physical address for service and your email address; and

2.      A BC Corporate Search.

There are some specific requirements for certain types of cases such as personal injury matters which you should review on the Small Claims website before filing.

Small Claims fees can be found here.

Small Claims Forms can be found here.

Serving a Notice of Claim

There are specific rules regarding the service of documents in the Small Claims registry. In order to ensure proper service of a Notice of Civil Claim, you are required to:

a)      Serve the document via registered mail; or

b)      Serve the document personally upon the defendant. Should the defendant refuse to accept personal service, it is acceptable to drop the document in front of them to constitute personal service.

It is also important to note that if the defendant is a registered company, the claimant should serve their documents on their registered records office as listed on the BC Corporate Search.

Documents for Service

 The following documents are required to be served on the defendant, to start a claim:

1.      The filed Notice of Claim labelled “Defendant Copy”;

2.      The filed Address for Service;

3.      The filed BC Corporate Search;

4.      A blank Reply form; and

5.      A blank Address for Service form.

Note: If there is more than one defendant, a separate copy of the documents must be served on each defendant.

There is a time limit of one year from the date of filing to serve the Notice of Claim.

If the defendant is out of province, permission of the Court is required to serve a Notice of Claim, except where the defendant normally lives in British Columbia but is away, for example, due to their work. 

Filing a Reply to a Claim

A defendant (and each defendant) in a small claims matter is required to file a Reply, to ensure that steps are not taken to obtain default judgment against a defendant. It is recommended that, as a defendant, you seek legal advice with respect to your response.

Note: If the defendant was served within British Columbia, they must file and serve their Reply within fourteen (14) days of receipt, however if the defendant was served outside British Columbia, they must file and serve their Reply within thirty (30) days of receipt.

A defendant has several options when responding to a Notice of Claim. These can be found under Rule 3 of the Small Claims Rules.

If the defendant disputes the Notice of Claim, they will be required to put the relevant details of your dispute into a Reply. This should be brief but included all grounds of defence. Any personal feelings or opinions about the claimant should be left out. Ensure you are using your own words and not simply a quantity of legal jargon. The focus of a Reply should be to outline the defendant’s facts and not evidence of those facts.

Note: the filing fee for a Reply is $50.00

Filing a Counterclaim

The defendant has the ability to file a Counterclaim against the claimant if appropriate. This is done within the Reply, by ticking the relevant box and providing details of the counterclaim.

This process allows a defendant to bring a claim against the claimant for any related dispute they may have. For example, if the defendant has completed services for the claimant (and the claimant is now suing for faulty services and is withholding payment as a result), the defendant is able to file a counterclaim for payment owing on their services.

A counterclaim should be filed with the Court and served on the claimant at the same time as the Reply.

Note: the filing fee for a Counterclaim is $156.00

A claimant is then required to respond to the counterclaim in the same way that a defendant responds to a Notice of Claim.

Agreeing to the Claim

If a defendant is willing to agree to the Notice of Claim, the parties may agree on one of several options:

a)      Agreeing to a payment schedule;

b)      Filing a Consent Order or Payment Order; or

c)      If a defendant only agrees to parts of the claim, a claimant may continue with their claim for the full amount.

If a payment schedule is agreed upon, payment is made, or Orders are filed, a claimant is then required to withdraw their claim.

Third Party Notice

If the defendant believes another party should be liable for the claim, they are able to file a Third Party Notice outlining the relevant party and why they should be liable. A BC Corporate Search is required when filing a Third Party Notice.

The Third Party Notice must then be served on the appropriate third party, along with the following documents:

1.      A copy of the filed BC Corporate Search;

2.      A copy of the filed Notice of Claim;

3.      A copy of the filed Reply; and

4.      A blank Reply form.

Within 30 days of serving a Third Party Notice, the defendant must filed a Certificate of Service (details on this process can be found below). If this is not done, the Third Party Notice will expire and a new one will need to be filed.

The third party has the same time limits for responding a claim as the initial defendant.  

Note: the filing fee for a Third Party Notice is $25.00

Proving Service of a Document

Both the claimant and defendant in an action is required to follow the same rules of service. If a party does not acknowledge service of any document in a Small Claims matter, you are able to file a Certificate of Service confirming you have fulfilled your duties of service. The process for filing a Certificate of Service requires:

1.      If the document was personally served: Simply input the details of the individual who served the document, with the details of how and when it was served.

2.      If the document was served via registered mail: The same details as point 1 above are required to be input into the Certificate of Service. It is also necessary to attach:

a.       A copy of the document which was served; and

b.      Proof of service – which can simply be your Canada Post delivery confirmation.

Note: If there is more than one party, a separate Certificate of Service will need to be filed for each party.

If you are thinking of initiating a claim in the Provincial Court or have received a Notice of Claim, it is important that you fully understand the process of the Court. If you find yourself struggling, please reach out to our lawyers at Ascent Employment Law for guidance.

Further helpful resources can also be found here:

·         Small Claims BC

·         Small Claims ‘How to’

·         The Law Centre

Keep an eye out for our next ‘Cheat Sheet’ on small claims settlement conferences and trial procedure, and contact us if you need advice on your matter!