Do you – and your partner, if you have one – have total savings of more than £3,000? Something to supplement your (reduced value) pension during your imminent retirement, perhaps, or just to provide a sensible buffer against one of life’s nasty financial shocks?
You do? Well, I’ve got good news for you: you’re rich! And it’s official. Even if you can’t remember where you parked the Rolls, or docked the yacht.
Yep, that’s right. If your household has more than £3,000 of ‘disposable capital’ – that is, money held in any kind of savings account, an ISA or other kind of capital financial product, any stocks or shares, or any redundancy capital payment – then according to the Ministry of Justice you are ‘wealthy’ and therefore able to afford court and tribunal fees, without any fee remission.
In a consultation on wide-ranging reform of the current HMCTS court fee remission system which closed this week – just four weeks after being launched on 18 April – the Ministry states that it has ‘sought to develop a test of disposable capital which is sufficiently detailed [to] prevent fee remissions being paid to wealthy individuals’. And, just to make sure that doesn’t happen, fee remission applicants who pass the disposable capital test will also be subject to an income test, with anyone earning more than the National Minimum Wage having to pay at least part of the court or tribunal fee.
And, let’s not forget, some of those fees – and especially those for employment tribunal (ET) claimants, coming into force on 29 July – are substantial. The fees to issue and pursue a claim for unfair dismissal, for example, will total £1,200 (an issue fee of £250, and a hearing fee of £950). Will summarily dismissed workers who have acted sensibly to protect their family from sudden financial shocks by building up moderate savings of just £3,000 or more want to risk £1,200 of those savings on an ET claim for unfair dismissal, when there is no guarantee that the employer will repay the fees even if the claim is ‘successful’? I don’t think many will.
The Ministry says that the proposed fee remission system is part of the Coalition Government’s strategy ‘to protect access to justice’. Call me mean, but I think that’s a bit rich.
Richard Dunstan is a policy wonk who has worked for Citizens Advice, the National Audit Office, the Law Society, and Amnesty International UK.