MoJ to raise Â£37m a year with immigration and asylum fee hike
Astronomical fee increases are 'appalling', says Labour's shadow solicitor general
The government is proposing a hefty increase in immigration and asylum tribunal fees in an attempt to plug the hole in the Ministry of Justice's (MoJ) budget.
A new consultation proposes increasing fees in immigration and asylum proceedings where a fee is payable so that the fee meets the costs of those proceedings in full.
The MoJ has previously consulted on plans to raise fees for proceedings in the First-tier Tribunal to recover a quarter of the £84m in costs to run the chamber each year.
However, having re-assessed the MoJ's financial position, ministers have declared that fees need to be raised higher than previously planned, by up to 500 per cent.
In a statement to parliament, the minister for human rights, Dominic Raab MP, said it was no longer reasonable for the taxpayer to fund 75 per cent of the costs of immigration and asylum proceedings and that the MoJ must contribute to reducing the deficit.
The courts and tribunals service cost £1.8bn in 2014/15, but only recouped £700m in income, leaving a net cost to the taxpayer of around £1.1bn.
'We therefore propose increasing fees in the First-tier Tribunal from £80 to £490 for an application for a decision on the papers and from £140 to £800 for an application for an oral hearing,' he said.
'We also propose introducing a new fee of £455 for an application to the First-tier Tribunal for permission to appeal to the Upper Tribunal.'
Appeals to the Upper Tribunal do not escape the government's proposed fee hike. The consultation proposes a fee of £350 for an application for permission to appeal and £510 for an appeal hearing where permission is granted.
'Mindful' that some applicants will face difficulties in paying such high fees, Raab said that those who qualify for legal aid or asylum support, are appealing a decision on citizenship, or are children bringing appeals would be among those exempt from fees.
'Higher fees are never popular but they are necessary if we are, as a nation, to live within our means,' he added.
'These proposals would raise around an additional £37m a year, which is a critical contribution to cutting the deficit and reducing the burden on the taxpayer of running the courts and tribunals.'
Responding to the news on Twitter, Labour's shadow solicitor general, Jo Stevens MP, said the 'astronomical fee increases' were 'appalling'.
The Law Society's president, Jonathan Smithers, criticised the MoJ's announcement, saying it was fundamental to the rule of law that access to the courts not be determined by the ability to pay and that 'the provision of justice should not be an accounting exercise'.
'There is a serious risk that fee increases of 500 per cent will prevent many people from challenging often incorrect Home Office administrative decisions about their entitlement to enter or remain in the UK,' he said.
The announcement follows recent significant increases in visa application fees which have generated additional revenue for the government.'
The proposed fee increase is the latest attempt by the government to make the court system pay for itself amid funding issues. Following annual budget cuts, Richard Heaton, the permanent secretary at the MoJ, revealed in a letter to MPs that the ministry had requested an additional £427m from the Treasury.
The cost of getting divorced has already soared by over a third with the fee to process a separation rising from £410 to £550, despite the actual administrative cost totalling just £270. This has led to fears that vulnerable people will be hit hardest by this latest tax.
In February, plans to charge beneficiaries £20,000 on estates worth over £2m were described as an 'opportunistic attempt' to extract money from the deceased.
Lawyers have warned that proposals to raise civil court fees by more than 1,000 per cent in six months would be a 'disaster' not solve the 'two nation' justice system highlighted by the Lord Chancellor and would make legal rights 'meaningless'.
Meanwhile, the Master of the Rolls, Lord Dyson, warned MPs of the dangers 'enhanced fees' would have on the justice system when giving evidence to the justice select committee.
Unisons legal challenge to increase of employment tribunal fees is due to be considered by the Supreme Court. Evidence provided by the union show a 91 per cent drop in sex discrimination claims, and an overall drop in claims of 80 per cent since the fees regime was introduced.
'When employment tribunal fees were increased sharply many who had been wronged were discouraged from pursuing valid claims,' added Smithers.
'Since June 2013 the number of employment tribunal cases has dropped by nearly 70 per cent and our members have told us that many claimants with strong cases see the fee as a significant deterrent to seeking justice.'