Court fee remission – a worthy exercise
Court fees can be a significant hurdle to commencing litigation, with fees up to £10,000 being required to even issue a claim. There is currently no appetite for abolishing these fees and they are only set to rise in the future.
These significant costs paired with a climate for reducing large financial expenditure means that it is worth revisiting what reliefs already exist to claimants.
The most notable cost relief is that individual claimants, in certain circumstances, can be entitled to a total or partial refund of their court fees. Individual claimants come in all sizes, from landlords, beneficiaries, sole traders and consumers. Despite being the users most vulnerable to feeling the impact of expensive court fees, many have not checked their eligibility to receive fee remission.
Court fee refunds could be available to individuals with monthly earnings less than £5,045. Consequently individuals with an income up to £61,000 per annum could still reap some benefits from fee remission. This could make a real difference in the financial viability of going forward with a case.
Unsurprisingly, there are few caveats and hoops to jump through before the relief is granted, and the level of court fee refund is tapered depending on the size of income and savings. In cases where sizeable court fees in excess of £7,000 are required, some fee remission could still be granted even if the claimant has savings up to £16,000. Generally no relief is available if a claimant has more than £16,000 in savings, unless the court fee would cause “exceptional hardship”.
From a defendants’ perspective, there has been a real increase in challenges on whether a successful claimant can recover court fees which could have been refunded if an application had been made. A recent first instance decision did not allow this argument, but within the profession there are reports that other courts have been more sympathetic to this argument. It seems likely this will continue to be disputed, particularly in high value claims. Until the position is firmly resolved, it in the interests of both defendants and claimants to consider eligibility for court fee remission.
A comprehensive and step by step guide to the rules is found under forms EX150 and EX160A.
No such relief has been forthcoming for companies and charities, nor is any envisaged in the near future given the increasing financial pressure on the court system. Consequently, court fees will continue to be a commercial consideration when choosing between court proceedings and alternative dispute resolution methods, such as the increasingly popular mediation.