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Justice Select Committee calls for divorce petition fee rise to be rescinded

Thousands penalised by divorce tax: Resolution

The Justice Select Committee has called for the increase in the divorce petition fee, from £410 to £550, to be rescinded. The Ministry of Justice had originally proposed that the fee should be raised to £750 but proceeded with the lower increase in response to a consultation on court fees. The same fee applies to applications for a decree of nullity or, in the context of civil partnership, for a dissolution order or nullity order.

The Committee's recommendation was made in a newly published report on courts and tribunal fees.

Of the divorce fee, the committee noted:

"[W]ith the average cost of proceedings standing at £270 in January 2015, the fee of £410 was already an enhanced fee."

The committee concluded:

"A further increase to £550, which is approximately double the cost to the courts of providing the service, is unjustified. It cannot be right that a person bringing a divorce petition, in most cases a woman, is subject to what has been characterised in evidence to us as effectively a divorce tax. We recommend that the increase in the divorce petition fee to £550 be rescinded."

Welcoming the committee's recommendation, Resolution Chair Nigel Shepherd said:

"At the time the hike was announced, court staff, our members, and the people they help were given only a few days' notice of the new fee. We said then that the government should have waited until this report was published.

"Now that it has, we urge Ministers to listen to the Committee, reverse the fee hike, and reimburse the thousands of people who have been unfairly penalised as a result of the divorce tax."

The report raises serious concerns about the quality of the Ministry's research (see para 49). It shares the view expressed by the senior judiciary and some others who gave evidence that it does not provide a sufficient basis to justify the proposals.

The Committee also proposed that a pilot scheme should be set up of a system in which there is a graduated or sequential system of fee payments whenever there are substantial fees payable in total in respect of a case in the civil or family courts or tribunals, allied with the requirement for the respondent to pay a fee.

It was also recommended that the Ministry of Justice should take up the Law Society's suggestion that it should introduce a system for regular rerating of remission thresholds to take account of inflation, and that it should conduct a further review of the affordability of civil court fees and the remission system, considering means of simplification, for example through automatic remission for all basic rate taxpayers.

The report is here.