On 22nd March 2021, the Government launched what they described as a consultation on ‘increasing selected court fees and re-evaluating financial assistance with fees by increasing income thresholds in line with inflation.
It closed on 17th May and the response has now been published.
The last fee increase review was back in 2016. According to the Government the rationale for increasing fees in line with historic inflation going back to 2016 is to quote them:
“The income received from fees covers less than half of the costs of running the courts and tribunals system. This additional cost is subsidised by the taxpayer. Whilst court and tribunal fees are reviewed to ensure they reflect the cost of the service, there have been minimal increases to fees in the courts and tribunals since 2016, despite growing costs due to inflation, amongst other things.“
Because these are inflationary increases, the Government’s position is that there is no increase in real terms. It is a shame they do not adopt this stance when announcing ‘increases’ in spending in the health or care sectors.
There were 89 responses to the consultation, from a range of sectors, including legal, public, property, enforcement and court users. Interestingly 61% of respondents disagreed with the proposal to increase fees, saying it was not the right time due to the impact of Covid-19 and the potential reduction of access to justice. Indeed, even some of those who agreed with the concept of a fee increase expressed concerns that it may not be the right time to implement them during the pandemic. Perhaps less a consultation and more a lip service.
In spite of these responses with the vast majority saying that the timing in wrong, the Government is proceeding with the inflationary increase. They will also be raising the Help with Fees income threshold in line with inflation.
The fee increases will come into effect on 30th September 2021.
Valid comments against this included:
• The HMCTS service needs to be improved first, as resolving a case is too slow
• Further digitisation is needed before fee increases could be justified
• Increased digitisation has resulted in lower running costs, therefore fees should not be increased
• Respondents also mentioned that the principle of inflation should be applied to enforcement fees and an index-linked fee structure is favourable as addressed in the consultation ‘Transforming bailiff action’
• The ban on High Court Enforcement Officers (HCEOs) should be lifted, so court users have options when enforcing judgments
There has been no comment from the Government on the suggestion to apply inflation to enforcement fees. No surprise there then.
Though not unexpected a tad disappointing as the original intention was that enforcement fees were to be reviewed annually when the Taking Control of Goods (Fees) Regulations came in on 6th April 2014. Remember that?
So far there has not even been a review of those fees, let alone an increase eight years or so down the line.
The report also failed to comment on the suggestion that court users should have a choice about who to use to enforce judgments. This is a change that is looked for by 99% of court users, according to the recent survey of 430 court users by the High Court Enforcement Officers Association.
Enforcement fee increases
High Court enforcement
• Writ of control – from £66 to £71
• Writ of possession – from £66 to £71
• Writ of delivery – from £66 to £71
County Court bailiff enforcement
• Warrant of possession – from £121 to £130
• Warrant of delivery – from £121 to £130