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Alignment of the Fees for Online and Paper Civil Money and Possession Claims.


Registry Trust was set up in 1985 to take over the running of the public Register of Judgments, Orders and Fines from the Chancellors office. Since then, Registry Trust has successfully maintained and expanded the public Register – operating on an impartial and not for profit basis.

Access to the Register of Judgments, Orders and Fines is open to all. This allows anyone to check the information on any business or individual, once they provide the correct details and payment of the fee.

Users and customers of the Register include (but are not limited to) individuals and small businesses who want information when they have been refused credit; small businesses who want to check potential clients; credit reference agencies who support lenders for the underwriting of debt, and making of informed credit decisions; employers who wish to check on present and potential employees; and the Insolvency Service prior to processing a petition for bankruptcy.

As before, we welcome the opportunity to comment on the Ministry of Justices’ consultation looking at the proposal to align court fees. In our response, we make comments and suggestions on how the process could be made more efficient and effective. We also request some clarification.

Registry Trust recognise that the existing free structure is far from perfect, with increases in small claims but simultaneous decreases in larger claims, as they are effectively priced out of the market. Our data analyst has reported on the variances of claim levels across England and Wales through the year -

Given the short timescale in which to provide a response to the consultation, Registry Trust would welcome the chance to build on our productive collaborative relationship to discuss potential improvements to the court service in full, in the future.

Proposal for Reform – Alignment of Fees response

Question 1: In light of our proposal as set out in Chapter Two, do you agree with the principle that online and paper fees should be the same? Please give reasons for your answer.

Registry Trust would always endorse the idea of a simple and straightforward court system, which is easy to navigate and understand for all users of the service. One set of fees seems a step in the right direction, but there needs to be a clearer rationale for increasing fees, over and above the issue of the discrepancy between income and expenditure. We would suggest a fuller consultation to review the entirety of the fee structure, as well as other areas in which the court service could provide a good service while spending less.

Question 2: Do you agree that the discounted online issue fees for MCOL and OCMC should be aligned with its paper issue fees? Please give reasons for your answer.

Registry Trust is not aware of any reason why the online fees should be increased as opposed to the paper fees being decreased, which would still provide the proposed alignment of fees.

It is evident that the court system is expensive to run, and the discrepancies between income and outgoings are alarming, but increasing online fees isn’t the answer. In the introductory remarks, the consultation paper states ‘…our court and tribunal system has run on the principle that those who use courts or tribunals should pay the full cost of the service they receive, if they can afford to do so. This allows us to set other fees below the cost of the service or not charge a fee at all to help ensure access to justice. In spite of this, the income received from fees covers less than half of the costs of running the courts and tribunals….’.

This indicates that there may be a bigger problem to be solved here. It is not clear if the government has fully explored all options for delivering efficiency gains within the service. If costs can be controlled through efficiency gains, this might allow government to avoid having to resort to increasing fees to close the cost-revenue gap.

As the government recognises, access to justice is a basic right for citizens. Raising fees is likely to create further barriers to justice and could undermine the government’s goal of maintaining and enhancing access to justice.

Moreover, increasing fees will not necessarily close the cost-revenue gap in the way envisaged. This could simply increase the workload of the Help with Fees department referred to in the consultation document and push up operational costs.

We understand that the majority of claims are now done online, in large part because users have been actively encouraged to move their activity online. Our understanding of this encouragement was that it was easier and less expensive for HMCTS to administer, which certainly marries with the normal run of things, where moves to online activity actually reduces running costs. There has been no evidence provided to show that the Ministry of Justice or the court service incur increased costs as a result of this change. The inevitable conclusion is that the Ministry of Justice and HMCTS are seeking to increase the online costs to meet a deficit incurred in running the entirety of the Court system, which unfairly targets only one group of court users.

Registry Trust has previously made suggestions to the Ministry of Justice on how it could reduce costs and operating delays through, for example, providing claimant data to Registry Trust. This would mean that all of those incoming queries around claimant names would be handled by a third party, at no cost to HMCTS or the Ministry of Justice, providing greater efficiency of service as staff could be diverted elsewhere, or the potential of cost savings, as fewer staff are needed. In 2018, 30% of our incoming calls had to be directed to HMCTS, as Registry Trust did not have the claimant data to provide the customer.

Over and above the cost savings and efficiencies that Registry Trust has previously suggested, there is more of a case to be made around reducing the existing costs of the court service, rather than seeking to increase fees as a time when the country as a whole is struggling financially.

Question 3: Do you agree that the discounted online fee for PCOL users should be aligned with its equivalent paper fee? Please give reasons for your answer.

See above.

Question 4: Do you agree that the discounted online fee for warrant of control should be aligned with its paper fee? Please give your reasons for your answer.

See above.

Question 5: Do you agree that the exemption for centre users who request a further attempt at an execution of a warrant should be removed? Please give reasons for your answer.

See above.

Question 6: As part of our assessment of the potential demand response, we would be grateful for feedback from consultees on the relative importance of different factors in the decision to take a case to court. These factors might include the court fee, other associated costs, the probability of success, the likelihood of recovering any debt, and any non-financial motivations such as any prior experience of court processes.

Registry Trust operates at the final stage of the court process – receiving records or judgments after they have been decided, and publishing these on the public Register. As such, we have anecdotal evidence on what may/may not impact a decision to take on a court case. Those same reasons will also vary somewhat between individuals and businesses.

The idea of taking a case to court is intimidating for many individual consumers and small businesses. The court service does not currently have the reputation of being something that is easy to navigate or understand; Registry Trust staff are often contacted by HMCTS staff asking how to navigate their own systems; court delays are off-putting; existing processes and forms create barriers. In addition, the court service has its own language and terminology which can be off-putting to the layperson. If individuals do not feel that they understand what is being asked of them, or the evidence they need to provide, they may simply stop engaging with the court service at all.

Simple ignorance of the court process, and how to access it may also be a factor. For many, taking someone to court is something you see on TV and in films. It’s not something your average person does, or would consider as a normal part of seeking redress.

Generally, court action is a last resort, and multiple methods of resolving the issue will have been tried prior to taking out court action. For larger businesses, this will simply be a part of their established costs. For smaller businesses and individuals, this is already a drain on limited resources, which may impact their decision to then pursue the matter in court. Existing court fees may be necessary to help run the service, but they are not inexpensive, and for individuals who are already out of pocket as a result of non-payment of a debt, these fees may be a step too far. Under the current fee structure there are instances where the fee is high, and therefore becomes a significant further outlay for the business or individual – creating a barrier to justice. We must also consider the likely financial situation of court users, in common with the rest of the country as we all attempt to navigate what a post-Covid and post-Brexit economic reality will be.

People may also feel that they are unlikely to get their money back even if courts find in their favour. This may not be a widespread factor though, in that most people will not know the likelihood or chances of them receiving anything beyond the ‘satisfaction’ of having a judgment taken out against the defendant in the case. The increase in the small claims limit up to £10,000 is also relevant to debt cases. In small claims, the Court only orders losing parties to pay small amounts in costs, with litigants are expected to represent themselves.

Question 7: Do you consider whether the proposal will have a disproportionate impact on individuals with protected characteristics? Are there any potential modifications that we should consider to mitigate this impact? Please give reasons for your answer

Registry Trust has not seen any statistics kept or maintained by the court service which would help provide a detailed response to this question, through examining the numbers of those with protected characteristics who already use the service.

On reading the 2015 Equality and Human Rights Commission Research Report 99 - Equality, human rights and access to civil law justice: a literature review, there are useful insights in section 4.6, specifically that of 4.6.2 - Impact on people with particular protected characteristics, which directly address this question.

The report states ‘The Government’s recent assessment of the telephone gateway service found that those seeking debt advice tended to be older (Ministry of Justice, 2014d). This contrasts with research which showed that the number of people who are over-indebted drops off significantly when looking at people aged 55 and above (The Money Advice Service, 2013). 53 Legal aid for such cases could be categorised as either debt or housing cases. Equality, human rights and access to civil law justice: a literature review 48 Equality and Human Rights Commission – October 2015 The Government’s analysis showed that ‘clients affected by the proposed changes to the scope of the debt category of law are more likely to be ill or disabled than the population aged 16 to 64 or the overall legal aid caseload affected. Specifically, 27 per cent of clients are ill or disabled (excluding unknowns) compared with 19 per cent of the population’. Debt clients are also slightly more likely to be from ethnic minorities than the adult population (Ministry of Justice, 2011c). The Government’s equality impact assessment drew attention to potential adverse impacts on people with mental health conditions (with debt being identified as a cause of some mental health conditions and people with mental health conditions being more likely to get into problematic debt). It also identified potential adverse impacts on women, in particular those who are from ethnic minorities. The assessment reported that ‘In general terms, many respondents suggested that the beneficiaries of advice in this particular category are likely to be vulnerable, by virtue of old age or disability status, and as such the proposals would have an adverse impact on these particular groups’ (Ministry of Justice, 2011c). The restrictions on legal aid for debt are likely to have a greater impact on women than on men. This is because research has shown that 64 per cent of people who are over-indebted are women (The Money Advice Service, 2013).

It’s already well established that those with protected characteristics are more likely to have lower disposable incomes, experience financial detriment generally, and feel less able to utilise forms of redress – either because of an inability to manage, or because of social structures which inherently limit their ability to access services in the same way as others.

To that end, it seems reasonable to assume that more people with protected characteristics will be impacted negatively through having to pay more for access to justice, albeit with the same expectation of service. Registry Trust would encourage the court service to engage with consumer and advisory groups who would be able to assist with a review of the proposed changes in light of the possible impact on those with protected characteristics.


Registry Trust suggests that a full review and overhaul of the court finances is needed. The current fee structure, in our view, is not optimal, and we would be well served to consider models which function well elsewhere in the world rather than seeking to increase fees for those who may not be able to afford it.

We acknowledge that reform is required, due to the large gap between the levels of income generated and expenditure. Simplifying and streamlining would be a vital part of any reform programme, but these exercises should be done as part of an overall strategy, rather than piecemeal.

It is also key that any changes that are likely to have a detrimental impact on those least able to pay should be properly evaluated. At present, while it is clear there is a significant income gap to be filled, there is no evidence to show that HMCTS or the Ministry of Justice incur increased costs as a result of people using an online service. Indeed, the reverse would seem to be true.

Alexandra Jones


Registry Trust