Page last updated at 01:17 GMT, Saturday, 24 January 2009

Court fees plan 'tax on debtors'

Dominic Grieve
Dominic Grieve has labelled the proposals as a "stealth tax"

The Conservatives have criticised a proposal to increase court fees for debt proceedings by up to 233%.

They say the new fees will be added to the person's existing liabilities, and have labelled the proposals as a "stealth tax".

The plans were set out in a Ministry of Justice (MoJ) consultation document.

The MoJ said that "no decisions have yet been made as to what will happen as a result of this consultation" and that it would "listen to every response".

A spokesman said the courts are self-funding and the proposed increases "reflect the full cost of providing the court system for those cases".

According to the Independent, the cost of a debtor being summoned to discuss their finances would go up from 30 to 100 under the new pricing scheme.

And the charge, when courts give permission for creditors to send in the bailiffs, would increase 186% from 35 to 100.

While Gordon Brown mouths platitudes about helping people, he is plotting a stealth tax on those in debt
Dominic Grieve
Shadow Justice Secretary

The cost of committal proceedings, which allow authorities to take residents who owe council tax to court, would increase 178%, from 90 to 250.

The court fee charged when a debtor is ordered to attend goes up from 45 to 50.

Shadow Justice Secretary Dominic Grieve said: "It is bad enough that ministers should address their own budget problems by fleecing people struggling with indebtedness, but to do so in the depths of a recession takes a special kind of cynicism.

"While Gordon Brown mouths platitudes about helping people, he is plotting a stealth tax on those in debt."

The Conservatives also say the new fees will raise 38m per year for the Ministry of Justice, which faces a 46m shortfall in the courts budget next year after similar reforms to child protection fees led to a collapse in income.

'Self-funding' courts

A spokesman for the MoJ said: "We are committed to making sure those who face money problems are given the best support possible.

"As a result, we will listen to every response and look at the impact increases in fees could have.

"The civil and family courts are self-funding and the proposed fee increases reflect the full cost of providing the court system for those cases.

"When they can afford it, it is right that those who choose to use the civil courts should pay - not the taxpayer. That means the taxpayers' contribution is used for fee concessions - to make sure the least well-off have access to justice.

"The government wants to ensure it helps those who might be hardest hit during a challenging economic period."

The MoJ has expanded free legal representation in county courts for households at risk of repossession, the spokesman added.



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