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Divorce fee increase ‘is unjustified’, says new Justice Select Committee report

Date:20 JUN 2016
A new report published today (20 June 2016) by the Justice Select Committee (JSC) has criticised the overall increase in court and tribunals fees, with particular reference to enhanced divorce petition costs as being ‘effectively a divorce tax’.

In January 2015 the government announced that it would not proceed with a proposed increase in divorce costs from £410 to £750. The £410 fee already represented an enhanced fee for such proceedings; thus, the decision in July 2015 to increase the fee to £550 represented a U-turn from the government on its previous decision earlier in the year. The JSC report describes the divorce fee increase as ‘approximately double the cost to the courts of providing the service’. It condemns the fee increase as ‘unjustified’, infers that it is discriminatory to women (who bring the majority of divorce petitions in the UK), and ends with a distinctive call for the increase to be rescinded.

Sir James Munby, President of the Family Division, was equally as condemning of the increase in the cost of divorce petitions:

‘There are only two things that the justice system does where you have to use the system. One is divorce, the other is probate … Therefore, we have a captive market … I have to say that there is something rather unattractive – particularly if one is selling justice, which one should not be doing – in battening on to the fact that there is a captive market and that, because there is no elasticity of demand, one can simply go on putting up the fees until it becomes another poll tax on wheels.

‘There will come a point where people start to say to themselves, “why does it cost six, seven or eight times as much to get divorced as it did to get married in the first place?”’

Nigel Shepherd, Chair of Resolution, praised the report and its findings:

‘We are pleased to see the Justice Select Committee has listened to Resolution’s evidence and recommended the government rescind the recent rise in fees for divorce petitions.

‘The Committee rightly recognises that this rise effectively amounted to a new tax on divorce, and that by raising it, people were being charged around twice what it actually costs to process a divorce petition.

‘…We urge Ministers to listen to the Committee, reverse the fee hike, and reimburse the thousands of people who have been unfairly penalised as a result of divorce tax.’

As well as divorce costs, the report details increases in employment tribunal fees of up to £1,200 (which led to a 70% drop in the number of cases brought), and a potential six-fold increase in costs relating to immigration and asylum.

The full report is available to view and download here.