From March 6th, the Ministry of Justice will change the way refunds on hearing fees are paid to people using the small claims court.
The current system allows people claiming to cancel their hearing and request a refund on their fees up to 7 days before their scheduled hearing date. The new system will only allow refunds for cancellations more than 28 days before the hearing date.
It is standard within the small claims court system that exchange of evidence between both parties happens 14 days before the hearing date.
The new system means that claimants will already be inside the 28-day window available to claim a refund when the exchange of evidence takes place. It is only once this disclosure takes place that a claimant has a real understanding of their chances of winning their case.
The new system means that claimants will already be inside the 28-day window available to claim a refund when the exchange of evidence takes place.
The change in law will affect the thousands of airline passengers who go to the small claims court each year to claim flight delay compensation.
Passengers will end up paying more money for their evidence to be seen and airlines will have to pay the hearing fee if the passenger is successful, making the change unwelcome by not just passengers claiming themselves but also the airlines.
Hearing fee amounts vary from £25 to £335 depending on how much a claim is worth. A family of 4 claiming €600 each could lose up to £170.
Bott and Co flight delay compensation Lawyer Coby Benson explains;
“Under the old rules, a claimant can obtain a full refund of the hearing fee if they notify the court more than seven days beforehand that the hearing is not to take place – be that because the case has settled, or alternately they wish to discontinue the matter having seen the evidence from the defendant. This allows both parties more time to take stock of their position and make an informed decision.
It’s difficult to reach any other conclusion than claimants are being forced to pay more for their access to justice.
“Under the new system, the amount claimants will be forced to pay to see any evidence from a defendant will have more than doubled.
“This could encourage defendants to file ever more vague defences working on the basis claimants will be reluctant to chance their arm paying the hearing fee on what amounts to the toss of a coin.
“It’s difficult to reach any other conclusion than claimants are being forced to pay more for their access to justice.”
An exact figure of the number of claims filed each year is unknown, but the change could result in hundreds of thousands of pounds of consumer’s money being lost through no fault of their own.