Hike in Court Fees in Autumn

Bad news for litigants in divorce and other proceedings, which might lead to a rush to issue divorce proceedings before the new fees are introduced. The government announced earlier this month that it intended to press on with increases in court fees before the end of the year despite widespread opposition to the move. These fee increases have now been passed and will come into force from 30 September 2021.

Fees for filing an application for a divorce, nullity or civil partnership dissolution will increase from £550 to £592, with an application for parental order going from £215 to £232. In civil proceedings, the hearing fee for a multi-track case will be £1,174, and for a small claims case the fee will be £352. The new fees and fee remission thresholds will apply from the end of this month.

The Law Society Gazette reported that, following a consultation opening in March, 61% of the 89 responses disagreed with the proposal to apply inflation to selected court fees, with many arguing this was the wrong time to increase costs due to the impact of Covid-19. Opponents of the plans also felt increases were unjustifiable due to the quality of service provided by HM Courts & Tribunals Service.

However, the Ministry of Justice said there was a strong justification for the proposals. The government response claimed: ‘The proposed increases reflect historic inflation and are therefore not an increase in real terms. The income generated from these proposals will go towards the running cost of HMCTS and will ensure that the courts and tribunals can continue to deliver access to justice for all.’

The proposed monthly income threshold for court users to be eligible for help with fees will also change from £1,085 to £1,170 for a single person and from £1,245 to £1,345 for a couple.

The government acknowledged that Covid-19 has had an impact on individuals and businesses but said this would be offset by proposed extended thresholds for offering help with fees. This will make the remissions scheme more generous for those unable to afford a fee.

The government appreciated that some court users ‘might sometimes be frustrated by the service they receive’, but said the increased costs are only intended to cover rising costs and were not about profiting from court users. The response notes that in 2019/20 HMCTS received £724m from fees against its £2bn running costs. The changes will raise an estimated gross income of between £23m and £29m a year, falling to £20m-25m once fee remissions are accounted for.

These changes come into force just as the courts moved towards on-line submission of all divorce cases and the closing of certain regional Divorce Centres which have been inundated with cases in the last 18 months and struggled to cope with the demand. It appears that there is a wholesale move to putting all family applications on-line, which may lead to restrictions to access to justice for some. However, there is a move towards more face-to-face hearings as the Covid restrictions ease. This is particularly the case with final hearings, but a large proportion of family hearings remain by telephone or Video Call.

If you have any questions about divorce or family proceedings, please contact our Mr Hill or his secretary to arrange a preliminary free chat. We are offering meetings over the telephone, Microsoft Teams or Face-to-Face at our Kendal or Windermere offices. Call us today on 01539 723757.