As highlighted by our previous advice blog entitled "Increase in Court Fees from 9th March 2015", a new schedule of court fees recently came into force under the Civil Proceedings and Family Proceedings Fees (Amendment) Order 2015 which radically increases the costs of issuing claims valued over £10,000.00 in the Courts of England and Wales.
The increased schedule of court fees applies to "money claims" but it is not always easy to identify whether your claim will fall into this category. For example, if you wish to issue a claim to contest the Will of a deceased family member or spouse to seek provision out of their estate, whilst you may ultimately be seeking a sum of money, is this a "money claim"?
This question has caused some confusion amongst practitioners as there is little specialist guidance on the subject. This article seeks to address that question.
The type of claim referred to above would be brought under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975 (the "Inheritance Act") by a claimant seeking reasonable provision out of the deceased's estate. The amount sought would obviously depend on the size and nature of the estate, but to illustrate the difference in court fees we will consider an example where £100,000.00 is sought:
Under the 'old' Court fees, (pre 9th March 2015) a money claim of this value would attract a Court issue fee of £910.00 but for the same claim under the 'new' Court fees (since 9th March 2015) the Court issue fee will be £5,000.00. Whereas, under both old and new fee structures, if the claim is defined as a "non-money claim" the considerably lower fee of £280.00 applies (when issued in the County Court). It is therefore essential to establish the correct fee applicable to the claim.
The issue is particularly pertinent with Inheritance Act claims as there is a tight timescale to ensure that claims are issued within 6 months from the grant of probate. This often means that protective proceedings are issued to comply with the limitation period even where the matter may have otherwise have been settled without the need for Court proceedings.
Clearly, a number of potential claimants will be deterred from bringing these types of claims if they are to be defined as "money claims" and hence caught by the above mentioned fee increase. In our experience, however, such claims are classified as "non-money claims" and hence will attract the fixed issue fee of either £280.00, if issued in the County Court, or £480.00, if issued in the High Court.
When considering the above issue, it is important to bear in mind that although a Claimant in these types of claims may ultimately be seeking money from the estate, this is often not in a fixed sum that can be defined upon issue of the claim. A correct interpretation of the matter is that the Claimant seeks provision out of the estate. This will be determined at the Judge's discretion after considering all the circumstances of the case, including the size and nature of the estate, which may not always be known to the Claimant upon issue of the claim. Further, the remedy granted may not be in monetary form at all, but instead could be property or an interest in property. In particular, because the claim is unlikely to involve a substantial dispute of fact, the claim is likely to follow the procedure under Part 8 of the Civil Procedure Rules and so it is not necessary to specify the value of the claim within the claim form upon issue. In this light, it is easier to understand the argument for classification of such claims within the "non-money" bracket with the applicable lower court fee. We have certainly had success with this argument in a number of cases in the County Courts of Norfolk and Suffolk since the introduction of the new fee structure.
If you are considering bringing such a claim, our team of experts in the contentious probate department at Clapham and Collinge would be delighted to offer advice and assistance in this regard. If you would like to discuss any aspect of such a matter please do not hesitate to get in contact with a member of our team who will be happy to assist.
For more information, contact our Norwich branch on 01603 693500 or our Sheringham branch on 01263 823398.