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Volume 608: debated on Thursday 21 April 2016

The Government have today published a consultation paper proposing new fees for proceedings in the first-tier tribunal (immigration and asylum chamber) and upper tribunal (immigration and asylum chamber).

In the spending review the Government announced that we were investing £700 million in Her Majesty’s Court and Tribunal Service (HMCTS). This will transform our courts and tribunals, reducing complexity in language, processes and systems; helping people reach the best resolution for them; minimising the steps that people need to go through to obtain justice; and improving access to justice. We will invest in better facilities and use technology to reduce paperwork, so that we create a courts and tribunals service fit for the modern age.

At the same time, we must reduce the burden on the taxpayer of running our courts and tribunals. In meeting our spending review settlement, all parts of the Ministry of Justice must contribute to the national effort to reduce the deficit and restore the Government’s finances to surplus. The courts and tribunals service cost £1.8 billion in 2014-15, but only £700 million was received in income. This leaves a net cost to the taxpayer of around £1.1 billion in one year alone.

Our consultation proposes increasing fees in those immigration and asylum proceedings where a fee is payable so that the fee meets the costs of those proceedings in full. We have previously consulted on plans to raise fees for proceedings in the first-tier tribunal (immigration and asylum chamber) in order to recover around 25% of the £84 million annual costs of that chamber. Having re-assessed the Ministry of Justice’s financial position following the spending review, we need to go much further.

In the light of the challenging financial circumstances we face we have already had to take difficult decisions. We have implemented enhanced court fees, above the cost of the proceedings to which they relate, for money claims; possession claims; general applications within civil proceedings; and divorce petitions.

In these financial circumstances, we have concluded that it is no longer reasonable to expect the taxpayer to fund around 75% of the costs of immigration and asylum proceedings. 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. 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.

We also believe that the same principles should apply to appeals to the upper tribunal (immigration and asylum chamber) so the consultation also seeks views on introducing fees, set at full cost recovery levels, for these proceedings. The consultation proposes a fee of £350 for an application to the upper tribunal for permission to appeal, where permission has been refused by the first-tier tribunal, and a fee of £510 for an appeal hearing where permission is granted.

We are mindful of the fact that some applicants will face difficulties in paying these fees, so to make sure that the burden of funding the system is shared as fairly as possible we will continue to exempt from fees those in particularly vulnerable positions. This includes those who qualify for legal aid or asylum support; those who are appealing against a decision to deprive them of their citizenship; and those children bringing appeals to the tribunal who are being supported by a local authority. We will also extend our exemptions to protect children being housed by the local authority and the parents of children receiving local authority support. In addition, we are consulting on further extensions to the exemptions scheme in this consultation to make sure we continue to protect the most vulnerable.

Higher fees are never popular but they are necessary if we are, as a nation, to live within our means. These proposals would raise around an additional £37 million a year, which is a critical contribution to cutting the deficit and reducing the burden on the taxpayer of running the courts and tribunals.

Full details of the Government’s proposals are set out in the consultation document which has been published on the website.