Charities and individuals who bring cases to the charity tribunal could be charged up to £600 because the government has said it wants to go ahead with plans to introduce fees.
In its response to a consultation on the proposal to introduce fees for courts and tribunals, which closed in September, the Ministry of Justice said it had decided to proceed with most of the fees proposed, including those for the general regulatory chamber, which encompasses the charity tribunal.
There is currently no charge for bringing a case to the charity tribunal, but the proposals include a £100 issue fee to start proceedings and have the merits of the case considered, and a further £500 to bring the case to an oral hearing.
Those who want to appeal a tribunal ruling in the upper tribunal would face further fees of £2,000 under the plans.
The government’s response to the consultation said: "The government believes that the principle of charging fees for proceedings in this chamber is right: we believe that it is fair that applicants should contribute to the cost of the service.
"In addition, the fees are well below full cost recovery levels and fee remissions will be available for those who qualify."
But Sylvie Nunn, charities and social economy partner at Wrigley’s Solicitors, who chaired the Charity Law Association’s working party on the issue, said the decision was "really disappointing for the sector, and it’s going to be a significant disincentive" to those who would like to bring cases.
The CLA working party’s submission to the consultation warned that if the fees did deter people from bringing cases, the likelihood of wrongdoing going undetected would be increased and the Charity Commission would be less accountable.
It also questioned whether the fees would make a significant difference to the public purse.
Nunn said: "I’m not entirely convinced that they took into account anything we put in our submission."
She said the £2,000 fee for the upper tribunal "came as a real surprise" and the original consultation had not made it clear that this was what the government was proposing to do.
"It’s going to be a real disincentive, bearing in mind that some of those who bring claims are not just big wealthy charities," said Nunn. "Sometimes it is individual trustees."
She said it was likely that charities would bear the brunt of the costs. "More than any other type of cases that I can think of, these are brought by or in relation to organisations funded by the public and supported by the taxpayer, generally speaking," she said. "So you’re taking from one hand and giving to the other, which just seems peculiar.
"The whole reason for having the charity tribunal in the first place was to avoid the cost of extensive litigation and allow things to be heard – to me it would be in the public interest to make it as easy as possible for these cases to be brought before the courts."
A Charity Commission spokeswoman said the commission had noted the government’s response and was considering it carefully.