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Court Fees Rise Will Hit Divorcees, Landlords And Other Litigants

Posted on Friday 24th July 2015 by Richard Perrins

If someone is getting divorced and about to lose half of everything they own, you might think that a £140 hike in court fees is probably the least of their worries.Richard Perrins - Solicitor, Coles Miller

We take a different view. We think the government’s plan to charge of £550 to file for divorce adds insult to injury.

Particularly when the people concerned have absolutely no choice but to pay it.

And especially when the standard of service offered by the courts has fallen. Local courts have closed counters. Applications must now go through regional divorce centres – delaying the process.

Hiking the charge to £550 would hit modest and medium earners trapped in unhappy marriages. It will affect hundreds of thousands of people every year.

Each divorce costs the courts £270 per person – £540 per couple.

So by charging £550, the government is – according to the Family Justice Council – sending a message “that the courts seek to make a profit from the personal misfortune and misery that is a divorce or a dissolution of a civil partnership.”

A small proportion of clients may be eligible to apply for a full remission of the court fee but only if they can show the court supporting financial documents.

Only those on certain income-based benefits and those who have a low gross income will qualify for a reduction.

There is a sliding scale but a single person (not living with children) would have to have a gross monthly income of less that £1,084 per month.

Whatever their circumstances, anyone who applies under the age of 61 would also have to have disposable capital of less than £3,000 (£16,000 for those aged over 61).

The rules for eligibility have tightened over recent years – so fewer people qualify and those that do still have to leap through numerous bureaucratic hoops.

But it’s not just divorce that is in the firing line. The government is also consulting about hiking court fees for:

  • issuing a possession claim in the County Court (usually to evict troublesome tenants), a £75 rise from £280 to £355
  • general applications in civil proceedings, doubling from £50 to £100
  • applications to the property and tax chambers.

And the maximum fee for money claims (excluding personal injury and clinical negligence) could double from £10,000 to at least £20,000.

That the government should be seeking to hike court fees should be no surprise to anyone. Ministers increased fees last March with only a few days’ warning.

Also, rewind back to April 2014 and probate fees more than trebled from £45 to £155 after a similar consultation to the one we are seeing now.

And just under a year before that in July 2013, the government brought in fees of up to £1,250 for employees taking their case to an employment tribunal.

Predictably the number of claims going before employment tribunals plummeted. So much so that MPs have now launched an inquiry into whether people are being priced out of justice.

You may not be able to avoid the court costs involved in filing for divorce but there are alternatives to the courts for other areas of the law.

Those alternatives can include dispute resolution, collaborative law, Early Neutral Evaluation and negotiated settlements – all of which can be cheaper, quicker and more cost effective than going to court.

Contact our expert solicitors in Bournemouth, Poole, Christchurch, Broadstone and Wimborne and find out how we can help you to obtain justice.

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