It seems fairly typical of governments these days that no sooner do they introduce something then they have to amend it shortly afterwards. Why not get it right in the first place?
The latest example I have in mind is the fees remission system, which will be overhauled this October, following the introduction of Tribunal fees in July. The planned introduction of fees was many months in the offing.
Let’s not be churlish. If it improves what existed before, which was horribly complicated, then so much the better. And the new system will apply to all Court and Tribunal cases (with some limited exceptions) not just the ET. It’s joined up government;
While we recognise that users of different courts and Tribunal’s may have unique characteristics or circumstances, we believe that a single system, solely based on the ability of users to pay a fee, is consistent, fair, and easy to understand while still protecting access to justice. We do not believe that a person accessing two different courts or tribunals should receive two different remissions decisions. A fee of, for example, £200 is no more or less affordable for applicants whether that applicant is seeking to gain access to child, bringing a claim to an employment tribunal or applying to the Gender Recognition panel.
(Ministry of Justice – Fee Remissions for the Courts and Tribunals – Consultation Response, September 2013)
That sounds sensible. So what is being introduced?
There will be a “disposable capital” test. The rationale is that if an applicant has savings available to them they should use those before seeking taxpayer assistance. Not that there is any taxpayer assistance available in ET claims anyway in the form of legal aid. This, of course, is about the system itself being self-sufficient.
Redundancy payments will not be excluded from the test, so if a person wishes to challenge their employer’s decision to make their role redundant by issuing Tribunal proceedings, the redundancy payment they are paid will be included in the capital calculation. The consultation document makes the point that the fee can be recovered from the employer if successful.
There is also a “Gross monthly income test” which replaces the current passported benefit, gross annual remission and net monthly income tests. The new test is banded on income, whether a person is single or in a couple and on the number of children. Anyone who receives Income-related Employment and Support Allowance, Income support, Income based Jobseeker’s allowance, pension guarantee credit and some in receipt of Universal Credit will be deemed to satisfy the test provided they also pass the capital test.
If an applicant has gross monthly income over the relevant threshold they will have to pay a contribution toward their fee – on a sliding scale of £5 for every £10- of income above the threshold. Someone who has £4,000 gross monthly income over the relevant threshold will not be entitled to any remission at all.
By way of example a single mother with one child and a gross annual income of £15,900 will receive a full remission if she passes the capital test, or a single person with no dependants and gross annual income of £12,990 will also get a full remission provided they qualify under the capital rule.
It is intended to bring the new system into play by this October. Full details of the scheme can be found in the MoJ’s Consultation Response
Advisers will now have to give careful consideration in low income cases to whether a fee remission can be obtained. Although the system is intended to be simpler, you can be sure that the application process will be anything but!