Government makes access to justice easier on individuals with lower income

Individuals bringing a claim regarding civil matters are charged fees for work carried out in the courts and tribunals, sometimes even paying more than one fee per court as their claim progresses. These fees are in addition to legal costs incurred when paying for a lawyer, so bringing a claim can be financially difficult for someone who does not have the necessary income.

But the Government has introduced a new system to help individuals in certain circumstances forgo paying these court fees. To be known as the ‘remission system’, it will be available to those with less income. The purpose of this scheme is to help people who can not afford to pay a court or tribunal fee, which in turn helps maintain access to justice by ensuring all who have a legal issue can pursue it under the law.

This new system is better targeted to those who need it the most and in order to qualify for fee remission, an applicant will need to be in receipt of certain state benefits such as Income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance, Income Support and Income-related Employment and Support Allowance or those have a low gross household monthly income.

The fee remission system is based on two different tests. Applicants will have to pass both tests in order to be eligible:

- the disposable capital test: assesses your household disposable capital (for example your savings and investments) and includes capital held in all types of savings accounts, stocks or shares. All forms of redundancy capital payments received (including wages paid in lieu of notice) are also considered

- the gross monthly income test: if you have passed the disposable capital test, this test will consider your gross monthly income (your income before tax and other deductions). The gross monthly income test will replace the current gross annual income and net monthly disposable income tests

Applicants that are required to pay more than one court or tribunal fee during a case need to submit a separate remission application form for each fee they would like a remission for.

The scheme also recognises that pensioners are less able to replenish capital than working-age applicants, are often reliant on savings to support a low income and are more likely to face care costs. The Government therefore introduced a different capital threshold for applicants aged 61 or over:

those age 60 and under with a household disposable capital of between £3,000 and £8,000 will be required to spend up to one third of their disposable capital on a fee (regardless of monthly income).  Those with £8,000 or more will be required to spend up to half their disposable capital on a fee 

those aged 61 and over will have a different capital threshold and will not be required to pay a fee if their disposable capital is less than £16,000 and they meet the monthly income test

The new remission system will also apply to employment tribunal fees. The Government disagrees with the assertion made by some respondents that users of the employment tribunal will be disproportionately impacted by the test due to the three month time limit in place for filing a claim, making it difficult for people to realise that asset.

But it has stated that any fee charged which is £1,000 or less – which includes all applicant fees in the employment tribunal – has a disposable capital threshold of £3,000.  So if an applicant aged 60 or under has household disposable capital of £3,000 or more at the time the fee is due to be paid, they will not be eligible for any fee remission (either partial remission or full fee waiver) regardless of their monthly income.

Deliberately providing false evidence for the purpose of a fee remission may result in criminal proceedings for fraud and the applicant will also be required to pay the fee in full.

The limitation period for applying for refunds on court fees is being increased from two months to three months.

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