Proposals for a civil court alignment fee for money and possession claims will continue a stealth tax on consumers and represent an “affront to justice”, claims the Civil Court Users Association (CCUA).
This comes as a response to the latest government consultation to align online civil money claims fees with paper application fees.
The proposal aims to ensure that the courts and tribunals have the necessary resources to deliver their services, as well as simplifying the existing fees structure. HM Courts and Tribunal Service’s consultation also states an intention to ensure that those who can afford to pay a fee, pay the same fee regardless of whether they lodge a claim online or via the paper route.
This consultation seeks views on the proposal that the online and paper fees should be aligned to the level of the higher paper fee. The proposal would raise an estimated £12-33m p.a. from 2022/23 onwards if implemented. The CCUA is concerned that fee increases would deny access to justice by deterring claimants from pursuing higher value chains.
The proposal states that the alignment will address the gap following the annual net fee incomes of £721m against the £2bn running costs for the courts.
The CCUA has called this “misleading”, and explained that those figures related to the whole of the service, including family and criminal courts, whereas the proposal only relates to an increase in civil claim fees.
According to the CCUA, HM Courts and Tribunal Service confirmed after a request from the CCUA that in 2018/19, civil claim fees produced an income of £561m whereas only £475m was spent providing the service.
The trade body is calling for a full fee review. It said: “There should be a reduction in the higher existing fee levels. Justice should be affordable. It should not place such a burden upon both claimant and defendant.”