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In a move welcomed by many, the UK Government has backtracked on its plans to impose a 500% increase to immigration tribunal fees. The original plans, set out in September by the Ministry of Justice, were expected to be pushed through despite weak support during a consultation phase.
In an attempt to recoup some of the £86m annual running cost for decision on paper and oral hearings, it was proposed that fees could increase by 500%. This would mean decision on paper hearings would have shot up from £80 to £490, while oral hearings would have increased from £140 to £800.
Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron suggested that the government attempted to sneak out this massive U-turn on a Friday in the hope that “no one would notice”. The proposed hike in tribunal fees faced overwhelming opposition from the Liberal Democrat party and was branded as “reprehensible” by campaigners.
In a written statement, Justice Minister Sir Oliver Head said: “However, we have listened to the representations that we received on the current fee levels and have decided to take stock and review the immigration and asylum fees, to balance the interests of all tribunal users and the taxpayer and to look at them again alongside other tribunal fees and in the wider context of funding for the system overall.
From today all applicants will be charged fees at previous levels and we will reimburse, in all cases where the new fees have been paid, the difference between that fee and the previous fee.”
Despite this U-turn, a MoJ spokesperson has maintained that those who can afford to pay more should do so in order to relieve the burden on the taxpayer. The fees had already taken effect for First-tier Tribunal hearings, and those who paid the increased amount will receive a refund of the difference. Fee reform is still a high priority for the Home Office, but it is still unclear how this will take shape over the coming years.