Review proposes 33 per cent fee increase in family support claims

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The Independent Online

The cost of going to court is set to rise steeply following Government predictions of an £18m shortfall in court fees brought on by a sharp downturn in the number of new cases.

The cost of going to court is set to rise steeply following Government predictions of an £18m shortfall in court fees brought on by a sharp downturn in the number of new cases.

A review commissioned by the Lord Chancellor's Department concludes that unless court charges are increased taxpayers will have to meet the shortfall. The income from court charges is used to finance the running of the courts and its infrastructure.

The proposed new charges include a 33 per cent increase in the cost of bringing a claim for financial support in a family matter, rising from £60 to £80. The report recommends increases across the board. The fee for a small claim under £200 will rise from £20 to £27 and larger claims between £5,000 and £15,000 will increase from £200 to £224.

Ian Magee, Chief Executive of the Court Service, said: "While protection will continue to be provided for those of modest means, in the majority of cases litigants should not expect the taxpayer to pay for the services they use, if they can afford to do so themselves."

He added: "The fee shortfall has come about because there has been a downturn in the volume of claims issued through the courts - up to 23 per cent in the case of fees payable on commencement of non-family proceedings."

The introduction of the new civil reforms last year under the stewardship of Lord Woolf, the Master of the Rolls, led to a fall in new cases as lawyers and their clients waited to see how the changes would settle down.

The Government's proposals will be now become the subject of a consultation exercise.

Earlier this month the Lord Chancellor, Lord Irvine of Lairg, announced his decision to abolish the £80 allocation fee for money claims of £1,000 or less on the grounds that the fee was disproportionate for such claims.

The change, which comes into force on 25 April 2000, will benefit both individuals and members of the small business community pursuing low-value debts.