Grant: court fee changes “target the poor”

Government wants single waiver system covering all courts

A reformed court fee waiver system, complete with tough means tests that for the first time reduce eligibility for court and tribunal users with savings, is set to come into force next month.

The new remission system – which is aimed at ensuring access to justice for those on low incomes who would otherwise struggle to pay the fees – will involve both disposable capital and monthly income tests.

Announcing the changes, Ministry of Justice junior minister, Helen Grant, reported that only small concessions had been made to Government plans after a consultation, which had 64 responses.

The changes will be implemented by secondary legislation on 7 October.

The new system – which replaces waiver regimes currently operated by different courts – includes:

  • a single system of fee remission across all of the courts and tribunals;
  • a new disposable capital test to assess eligibility for a remission; and
  • a new single income test requiring a bigger contribution from those who pay part of their fee.

Under the gross monthly income test, for example, if they pass the disposable capital test, contributions to court fees will begin to be made by couples earning more than £1,735 if they have two children, and childless single people who earn more than £1,085.

Minor concessions made by the Government after the consultation, which included responses from the Law Society and the Bar Council, centred on a more generous disposable capital test for the over-60s, and a greater number of capital thresholds for younger people.

The time period in which to apply for retrospective fee remission has also been extended to three months from a proposed two months, following the consultation.

The new remission system will not apply to First Tier immigration and asylum tribunals.

Ms Grant said: “The taxpayer contribution towards fee remissions will be better targeted towards those who need it most. They will also ensure that the system of remissions is fair, easy to use and consistent across courts and tribunals.”

Separately, a new fee of £215 for an oral renewal application in judicial review proceedings, first announced in April, will also come into force next month. If the application is granted at an oral hearing, the fee for a resulting full hearing will be waived.