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New court fees – bad news for divorcing couples and landlords

James Watkins - Law on the Web

  1. 03 August 2015
  2. Family
  3. 0 comments

Getting a divorce is set to become more expensive later this year, with court fees increasing by a third. However, those aren’t the only fee hikes on the horizon.

The increasing price of justice

The Ministry of Justice is rather keen to save some money, in case you hadn’t noticed from the legal aid cuts and continuing court closures.

However, more revenue generating efforts are on the way. It’s good news for a department looking to make cuts, but is it good news for the ordinary hard-working people that the government claims to be on the side of?

Which fees are going up?

The increase in divorce fees is the most notable of the increases. As things stand, couples have to pay £410 when they apply to get divorced – this fee will now go up to £550.

If this seems high, it could have been worse – the original plan was to raise the fee to £750.

Other increases include:

  • Evicting tenants – issuing a county court possession claim will go from £280 to £355
  • General applications in civil proceedings will go from £50 to £100
  • Contested applications in civil proceedings will go from £155 to £255 (except for extensions of injunctions for protection from harassment or violence)

The increases are expected to raise an extra £60m a year. Courts minister Shailesh Vara said that move was necessary, as the courts and tribunals service costs £1bn a year more to run than it receives in income.

He also promised changes to the remissions system, which allows some individuals to not pay fees if they cannot afford it.

“At every stage we have sought to protect the most vulnerable by ensuring they will not have to pay new and higher fees and by making the remissions scheme more generous,” he said. “We have also sought to ensure that those who can afford to – such as wealthy individuals or large corporations making very high money claims – will make a bigger contribution.”

Will the fee increase restrict access to justice?

There are certainly concerns that this could happen, especially with an area as sensitive as divorce.

Mark Keenan from Divorce Online described the increase in court fees as “unjustified”.

“The cost of actually doing [divorce] work has been calculated at around £220, so the courts are actually making a huge profit on these fees,” he told Law on the Web. “I appreciate that the court service needs to be paid for in these times of austerity, but families will be taking the hit for this, which is unfair.

“I know there are exemptions for people on low income but what the government seems to think is low income, and what that actually means are two different things.

“This will hit low/middle income families the hardest and will mean many people will simply not be able to afford to get divorced.”

Jonathan Smithers from the Law Society, said that the fee increases would “deny individuals and small businesses access to justice”.

“All civil cases, from those filing for divorce to landlords needing their property back are affected by these latest punitive increases which are tantamount to selling justice like a commodity, leaving it out of reach for many ordinary people,” he said.

“This will only serve to widen the access to justice gap in our two-tier justice system.”

The recent introduction of employment tribunal fees resulted in sharp reduction in employment claims. The fees were introduced to deter spurious claims, but there are worries that the fees (which can be as high as £1,200 for an unfair dismissal or discrimination case) are also deterring legitimate claimants. £1,200 is a lot of money, particularly for someone who may have just lost their job.

Meanwhile, a recently introduced charge for criminal defendants who are found guilty has aroused alarm, as it penalises defendants who plead innocent more heavily.

Defendants who plead guilty receive a lower fine than those who plead innocent and stand trial. Magistrates have warned that the threat of higher fines has caused defendants who believe they are innocent to plead guilty.

As Plymouth solicitor Stephen Walker warned back in April: “The fundamental principle of British justice is the prosecution have to prove their case. There is a risk that people may choose to plead guilty for financial reasons alone.”

Law on the Web has partnered with Divorce Online to offer an inexpensive and hassle-free divorce service. Find out more in the Divorce section of our Law Shop.

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