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Anthony Reeves

Court fee changes – a good time to try alternative dispute resolution?

A consultation is under way before the next set of court fee increases. The Government is maintaining the policy that the costs of running the civil courts – county courts and high court – should be funded from court fees.

In recent years this had caused significant increases in court fees. This is making access to the civil courts much more difficult for a person on very modest means. Although there are fee exemptions for those on low incomes, the threshold above which you are eligible for fee exemptions is very low, especially for a single person.

The proposed changes are perhaps not as bad as they could have been in some respects as they are proposing no change to enforcement fees and court hearing fees and to abolish the allocation fee and listing fee; however, the abolition of these fees is merely being front loaded onto the fees for issuing a court claim.

The burden is falling heavily on small claims in the bracket of £5,000 to £10,000. This will have a large impact on small businesses trying to recover troublesome debts.

While it is right to encourage disputes to be settled by alternative means, I do wonder whether those who simply don’t want to pay will have an added shield in that they know the creditor won’t be able to follow through with their threats of legal action.

Businesses that are in a genuine dispute, but want a quick and cheap resolution to the issue, may find alternative methods more attractive.

Indeed, at The Merriman Partnership, I will be offering dispute adjudication whereby businesses (who have no connection with the firm) can agree to let me decide their dispute, which will be much quicker and cheaper than the court system.

I would encourage all local businesses and individuals to visit the Court Service website and comment on the proposals before the consultation closes on January 24.

Hopefully, it will be a genuine consultation and the views expressed will be taken into before the final changes are announced.

  • Anthony Reeves is a Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Legal Executives and an author of law books. His main areas of interest include debt recovery (both claimant and defendant), contractual disputes, employment law (unfair dismissal cases), claims against large institutions (such as banks/utility companies) for harassment of debtors, professional negligence claims, judicial review, and consumer law. He is a consultant at The Merriman Partnership in Marlborough.