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Can I Afford to Go to Court?

As mentioned in our previous blog there has been a massive increase in court fees. This increase has raised significant concerns about whether people will still be able to access justice.

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One of the defences raised in respect of the court fees is that people with lower economic means will be able to apply for a fee remission, which is a full or partial reduction of the court fees. This will mean that the level of access to the court will not be reduced, and those who cannot afford the fees will not be in a worse position. However there is a strict criteria which a claimant will need to meet in order to be eligible for a fee remission. This criteria excludes many claimants and leaves them struggling to pay the huge fees.

Disposable Capital Threshold

The first hurdle a claimant will have to pass is whether they fall within the Disposable Capital Threshold. The level of the threshold will depend on the level of fee. If, for instance, the level of fee is under £1,000, the Claimant will be completely ineligible for a remission if they have £3,000 or more in savings. If the fee is over £7,000 then the claimant will only be ineligible if they have £16,000 or more in savings. A study by the Halifax Building Society in November 2013 suggested that across England and Wales, the average savings of an individual were between £7,500 and £8,000. This means most claimants who were facing a fee of £2,331 or more would not be eligible for a fee remission.

One issue with the fee remission system is that there is no allowance made in respect of the Disposable Capital Threshold where the claimant is a member of a couple rather than a single person. Unlike the other thresholds, there is a single cap and the savings of a single person will be treated as the same as the savings of a couple. If for instance you are living as a couple and each partner has £3,000, you will be treated as having joint savings of £6,000 and could be ineligible for a fee remission even though your individual savings are within the threshold.

Income Tests

The next series of hurdles relate to the claimant’s income. As above, a partner’s income will be taken into account along with the claimant’s. If the claimant or their partner receive Income based Jobseeker’s Allowance, Income Support, Universal Credit, State Pension Credit or Scottish Civil Legal Aid, they will automatically be entitled to a full fee remission.

If they do not receive the benefits above, the claimant will need to fit within the income thresholds to be eligible. There is a different threshold if you are part of a couple and if you have children, with allowances being made for each additional person in the household. If a claimant had the average salary in Britain of £26,500, which results in a gross monthly income of £1,758, they would be ineligible for a fee remission. If they were a single claimant with two children, they would still be ineligible for a full fee remission as they earn more than £1,575 a month after tax.

If a single person earned £15,500 per year resulting in a gross monthly income of £1,135.60, they would be eligible for a full fee remission, assuming they don’t have more than one child.

This means that there are a significant number of people who would be ineligible for a full fee remission, and would have to pay at least part of their court fees.

So what does this mean?

Eligibility to pay the high court fees won’t just apply to claimants with large disposable incomes, but will also apply to ordinary people on tight budgets who will not be able to find capital of between £1,000 and £7,000 to spend at Court. It will include families who have scrimped and saved so that they have sufficient assets to send their children to university, to save for a deposit on a house or for their retirement, but are now told that they essentially have to use these small savings to access justice. The concern is that many deserving claimants may well be deterred from issuing claims and engaging with the court system thus reducing access to justice.