Government to raise extra £35m after trimming list of rising court fees

Courts: 172 fees to rise

The government has trimmed the number of court fees it will increase by 10% next month, reducing the likely revenue they will raise from £42m to £35m.

The Ministry of Justice (MoJ) has removed 30 of the 202 court fees it consulted last year on increasing, most notably the divorce application fee.

The other 29 fees were removed on the basis that further analysis was needed of whether the increase would take them to a level beyond the underlying cost of the service provided by HM Courts & Tribunals Service (HMCTS).

Publishing its response to the consultation yesterday, the MoJ said there was “a strong justification to increase fees by 10% to partially reflect changes in the general level of prices”.

When fees were last updated in September 2021, 95 of the 172 were increased. That was based on inflation as at March 2021; but over the next two years, the consumer prices index increased by 17.8%.

The decision was despite 62% of the 52 consultation respondents being opposed to the proposed rises, mainly on the basis of access to justice, with only 15% in favour. Around half of respondents were from the legal sector.

The MoJ said: “Some respondents also felt that fee increases could not be justified as they believe that the quality of service provided by HMCTS does not offer value for money, stating court backlogs as one example.

“However, those who agreed think that it is fair to increase fees given rising costs, stating that extra funding for HMCTS is necessary and could help improve the quality of service.”

There are 306 court fees in total, generating £727m of the £2.3bn it cost to run HMCTS in 2022/23. While the original proposal would have raised a ‘best estimate’ of £42m, the revised list is put at £35m. Some 54% of the fee changes are less than £20 and 87% are less than £50.

“The additional income raised from fee increases will support HMCTS to deliver its services and make continuous improvements, including the final delivery phase of the HMCTS digital reform programme,” the MoJ said.

There are certain fees which have a specific power allowing HMCTS to recover more than cost. The divorce application fee of £593 is one of them but the MoJ has rethought increasing it.

“The government acknowledges that, as an ‘enhanced’ fee, divorce is high in comparison to other fees related to proceedings in the family courts,” the consultation response said.

“Protecting access to justice is of paramount importance and the government has carefully considered the affordability concerns raised during the consultation period, including the risk that an increase to the divorce fee could deter people (particularly women and those in abusive relationships) from bringing applications to court, therefore remaining in unhappy relationships.”

Given also that the underlying service has “simplified with its digitisation and introduction of no‑fault divorce”, an increase would not be proportionate “at this time”.

The MoJ said it would also press ahead with introducing inflation-based increases in court fees every two years as opposed to the ad hoc approach taken to date, subject to the views of statutory consultees. There will not be a public consultation.

Respondents’ opinion on this was split – 35% were in favour and 40% against – with some arguing that it was only suitable if other types of associated costs, such as fixed recoverable costs and enforcement costs, were increased too.

The fee rises will be effected by a negative statutory instrument which will come into force in May.

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