Help with court costs

Court costs are generally incurred upon the start of a court case, where some of the work completed may attract a fee. Court fees can often surpass the actual monetary value of the case, which means a court case should be carefully considered before incurring court costs.

In England and Wales, there are several ways to gain financial assistance with court costs; however, you may be required to provide evidence of financial hardship or an otherwise inability to pay your own court costs.

When do I have to pay court costs?

Court costs are generally incurred following the delivery of the court verdict of a case. In many instances, the losing party must pay the court costs of the winning party, in addition to any damages, compensation, etc. awarded by the court.

What types of help with court costs are available?

There are several different ways you can gain assistance with paying court costs. The primary methods are:

  • EX160 Form
  • Legal Aid
  • Help at Court

EX160 Form

An EX160 form allows application for court fee remission. You may not have to pay a fee, or you may get some money off if you:

  • have no savings or investments, or only a small amount; and
  • receive certain benefits; or
  • are on a low income.

The EX160 Form must be submitted with supporting documents to provide evidence of financial hardship, low income or any other reason for which you cannot afford to pay all or part of your court costs.

Usually only individuals can apply for help with fees, although the following may also be eligible:

  • sole traders;
  • charities and not-for-profit organisations who are making a case to the UK Supreme Court;
  • companies applying to the Gambling jurisdiction of First-tier Tribunal (GRC);
  • non-UK nationals if a case or claim is being dealt with by a UK court or tribunal.

If you have no savings or less than £3,000 in savings, you’ll be able to get help with your fee, as long as you receive one of these benefits:

  • Income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA);
  • Income-related Employment and Support Allowance (ESA);
  • Income Support;
  • Universal Credit (and you’re earning less than £6,000 a year);
  • Pension Credit (guarantee credit);
  • Scottish Legal Aid (Civil Claims).

You can also gain full or partial remission of court costs if your income is below a certain amount. You must provide evidence of your marital status, any dependent children and your gross annual income. In working out your income, you should include:

  • wages;
  • some benefits (although some, such as carer’s, bereavement and attendance allowance are excluded);
  • pensions (state, work or private without guarantee credit);
  • rent from anyone living with you and other properties that you own
  • payments from relatives;
  • maintenance payments, eg from an ex-spouse;
  • income from selling goods publicly or privately, including over the internet;
  • student maintenance loans, grants or bursaries (apart from tuition fee loans).

Legal aid

Legal aid is also available to those who require help with court costs and representation. Again, certain requirements must be met to receive it.

You’ll usually need to show that: your case is eligible for legal aid; the problem is serious; and you cannot afford to pay for legal costs.

You could get legal aid if:

  • you or your family are at risk of abuse or serious harm, eg, domestic violence or forced marriage;
  • you’re at risk of homelessness or losing your home;
  • you’ve been accused of a crime, face prison or detention;
  • you’re being discriminated against;
  • you need family mediation;
  • you’re adding legal arguments or bringing a case under the Human Rights Act.

Usually, legal aid is sought in civil law cases, but it is possible to gain legal aid in a criminal law case. Complete a ‘criminal legal aid application form’, which should be provided by your solicitor before the start of the case. If you do not receive the form, ask for one.

Help at Court

Help at Court offers assistance in providing someone to speak on your behalf in court. As well as various financial conditions, Help at Court will only be provided if:

  • it can be shown that providing someone to speak on your behalf in court is appropriate and of real benefit to you;
  • if it is reasonable for Help at Court to be provided to you;
  • it is better for you to attend a court hearing, rather than your solicitor simply writing to the defending party on your behalf.

Are there any other types of help with court costs?

There are other ways to receive help with court costs, but you may not qualify for all of them.

Fixed Fee Interviews are a good way of receiving an initial consultation with a legal professional, often free of charge. This could help you decide whether a potential court case is worth pursuing, thus saving you the cost of fighting a losing battle.

If you are a member of a trade union, they may be able to offer assistance with challenging decisions made by your employer in court.

Some motoring organisations also offer discounted or free court costs on certain insurance plans. Alternatively, it is possible to take out legal expenses insurance policies in the event of court costs being incurred.

 The Bar Pro Bono Unit offers free legal advice and representation from volunteer barristers to those who cannot afford court costs. This must be applied for in advance of your court case.

 A conditional fee agreement can be put into place in civil, non-family court cases. This means that, if you lose, you only have to pay the costs of the other side, and, depending on the agreement, any barrister’s fees. It also means that, if you win, you usually pay your solicitor a higher fee than you would normally.

Article written by...
Lucy Trevelyan LLB
Lucy Trevelyan LLB

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Lucy graduated in law from the University of Greenwich, and is also an NCTJ trained journalist. A legal writer and editor with over 20 years' experience writing about the law.