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Divorce costs to soar after court fees review

The cost of getting divorced will jump by a third after the Government announced increased court fees.

Spouses seeking a split will face a £550 bill under the new regime - £140 more than they currently pay.

Other fees are also set to rise in a move critics claimed could deny individuals and small businesses access to justice.

Ministers said they had decided not to press ahead with their original proposals to raise the cost of issuing divorce proceedings by 80% to £750.

They insisted the "most vulnerable" would be protected by ensuring remission is available for petitioners who need it such as women in low wage households.

Under other proposed measures which first emerged in a consultation in January, it was also confirmed that:

:: Fees for issuing a possession claim - normally used to evict tenants - in the county court will rise by £75 from £280 to £355. The Ministry of Justice (MoJ) said its analysis suggests this "will not deter anyone who would otherwise have taken their claim to court".

:: Fees for general applications in civil proceedings will double from £50 to £100, while the cost of contested applications will rise from £155 to £255. The MoJ said applications involving "vulnerable" people would be excluded from this increase, such as those to vary or extend injunctions for protection from harassment or violence.

Courts minister Shailesh Vara also announced a consultation on new proposals. These include raising the maximum fee for money claims from £10,000 to at least £20,000

Fees are currently payable on 5% of the value of a claim up to a maximum fee of £10,000. Mr Vara said the change will only affect cases worth £200,000 or more.

The highest value claims account for 0.4% of the total 1.2 million money claims each year, he added.

Personal injury and clinical negligence claims will be excluded from the higher cap.

The Government plans to introduce or increase fees for certain tribunals including a doubling of costs in the Immigration and Asylum Chamber and introducing fees in property and tax regulatory chambers. A "general uplift" of 10% to a range of charges in civil proceedings is also under consideration.

Law Society president Jonathan Smithers said: "The Government introduced dramatic hikes to court fees just months ago. These latest proposals will increase fees by up to 1,320% for some cases. They will deny individuals and small businesses access to justice, crippling them when trying to recover monies owed to them.

"All civil cases, from those filing for divorce to landlords needing their property back are affected by these latest punitive increases which are tantamount to selling justice like a commodity, leaving it out of reach for many ordinary people. This will only serve to widen the access to justice gap in our two-tier justice system."

Labour hit out at the move. "These latest proposals for increases in court fees show a contempt both for court users and Parliament," shadow justice minister Andy Slaughter said.

Mr Vara said the courts and tribunals service costs £1 billion more a year to run than it receives in income.

Officials estimate that the increases confirmed today, which are expected to come into force later in the year, will generate £60 million a year in extra income. Those under consideration would yield around £48m a year.

Mr Vara added: "We recognise that fee increases are not popular but they are necessary if we are to deliver our promises to fix the economy and bring the nation into surplus.

"At every stage we have sought to protect the most vulnerable by ensuring they will not have to pay new and higher fees and by making the remissions scheme more generous.

"We have also sought to ensure that those who can afford to - such as wealthy individuals or large corporations making very high money claims - will make a bigger contribution."

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