Government eyes £42m boost through 10% court fees rise

Freer: Fair balance

The government is set to recoup up to £42m a year more in court fees after proposing a 10% increase in over 200 fees.

The Ministry of Justice (MoJ) is also to introduce inflation-based increases in court fees every two years as opposed to the ad hoc approach taken to date.

A consultation published on Friday said court fees generated £727m of the £2.3bn it cost to run HM Courts & Tribunals Service (HMCTS) in 2022/23.

Justice minister Mike Freer wrote: “It is critical that HMCTS continues to receive an adequate stream of income by ensuring fees keep pace with increased costs to HMCTS as a result of changes in the general level of prices, while at the same time minimising the cost to the taxpayer as much as possible…

“I believe that increasing our fees by 10% – just over half of the 17.8% rise in the consumer price index (CPI) since they were last increased in 2021 – creates a fair balance between more closely aligning user contributions to growing HMCTS costs and recognising the ongoing financial pressures to households as a result of increases to the cost of living.”

There are 306 different court fees in total and the MoJ plans to increase up to 202 of them – it has still to determine whether the increase would take 70 of them to a level beyond the underlying cost of the service. If it does, the increase will be dropped.

There are certain fees, however, which have a specific power allowing HMCTS to recover more than cost.

The consultation said that, in 53% of the rising fees, the increase would amount to less than £20.

With no specific inflation metric for HMCTS, “changes in CPI provide a useful indicator of the changes in inflation borne by HMCTS”.

Overall, the increases will generate between £34m and £42m, which Mr Freer described as “a significant level of additional funding which will go directly towards improving service delivery, subsidising the cost of related court and tribunal services for which we do not charge a fee, and reducing the overall cost to the taxpayer”.

He added that, together with the upcoming revised Help with Fees remission scheme, “I am confident that these proposals will bring crucial funding to HMCTS without denying access to justice to those who may not be able to afford a court fee”.

The last major increase in fees was in 2021 and the consultation said establishing a routine increase every two years “would provide a more sustainable stream of income for HMCTS while staggering the financial impact on users of the courts and tribunals”.

There would be no consultation under this arrangement, except where the MoJ was looking to make wider policy changes to fees which did not fall under inflation and cost-based updates.

The new Help with Fees scheme will come into force late this year ahead of the new fees in March 2024. The consultation closes on 22 December.

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