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Councils to challenge increase in child care proceedings fee

Date:14 JUL 2008

Hillingdon Borough Council in London, Leeds City Council, Liverpool City Council and Norfolk County Council have jointly lodged judicial review proceedings against the Government over the increase in child care proceedings fee.

The Family Proceedings Fees Order came into force on 1 May 2008 and increases court fees in public law family proceedings, meaning local authorities' fees for care orders will increase from £150 to £5,225 for a fully contested court case.

The local authorities argue that the government failed to adequately consult them on the fee increases, that the 'full cost recovery' principle should not be extended to child-care cases, and that the reallocated cash is insufficient.

There has been widespread criticism from senior judges and the Association of Lawyers for Children over the fee changes. Last week District Judge Crichton told Newswatch that the Government's initiative is nothing short of a scandal".

District Judge Crichton also said he had heard that money allocated to Local Authorities to pay for the proceedings could not be traced, while other Local Authorities said that they have received the extra funding but that it did not match the number of applications they made last year or are likely to make this year.

Suzanne Bond, solicitor for Hillingdon Council and chairwoman of Solicitors in Local Government, told Newswatch: "We have joined together to take this issue to judicial review because the impacts of the rising courts are immense. We do not feel that there was adequate consultation on the changes to fees or that the reallocated money is sufficient. These changes will have a major effect on local authorities' ability to fulfil their statutory obligations from ever-decreasing budgets without other services suffering."

Councillor Stewart Golton, executive board member for Childrens Services at Leeds City Council, said: "As a direct result of the new fees, Children's Services are facing a shortfall of some £540,000 this year. We are now considering the potential impact this may have on children in need and their families in the city.

"Like the other councils involved in this legal action, we do not feel the Government consulted adequately enough with local authorities before taking the decision to increase the court fees by 2,500%."