On 1st July 2014, the NSW Civil and Administrative Tribunal (NCAT) increased its fees.
The application fee for tenancy and social housing matters has increased from $38 to $47. People with concession cards are still eligible to pay a reduced fee of $5. The fee to lodge an internal appeal is now $396, which represents a 25% increase. The fee to set aside or vary an application has increased from $78 to $97.
These are substantial increases considering that the last increase happened just six months ago when tenancy matters transitioned from being heard at the Consumer, Trader and Tenancy Tribunal to being heard at NCAT.
Redfern Legal Centre has had concerns that until now there has been no pensioner or concession discount for appeals or applications to set aside a judgment. A new and welcome development is that reduced fees for these applications have been introduced. People who receive pensions, benefits or allowances including students receiving an allowance, as well as people in receipt of aid or assistance from a community legal centre, are eligible to apply for the concession fee. The reduced rate for an internal appeal is $100 and to set aside or vary orders the reduced rate is $25.
Tenants can also make an application for the fees to be waived in part or in full. The general rule is that a fee will only be waived where an individual can show financial hardship. An individual can apply for a fee waiver even if they would also be eligible for a reduced fee. These applications will be considered, however the applicant will have to show ‘special reasons’. Eligibility for a reduced fee alone will not suffice to have the fee waived completely. Many people who are on a government benefit can be characterised as experiencing financial hardship, however in order to be eligible for the fee waiver the tenant will need to demonstrate why the government benefit is unable to cover the fee. There is a form available on the NCAT website that should be completed when applying for a fee waiver. There is also an option for free postponement if a tenant is not eligible for a fee waiver but will still have difficulty paying the fee.
The increases in fees start to impinge on the objectives of the Civil and Administrative Tribunal Act to resolve the real issues in proceedings justly, quickly and cheaply. A rehearing application in the Consumer, Trader and Tenancy Tribunal was the same cost as an application fee to commence proceedings. There is no direct replacement of the rehearing application, however the provision in the Act that is the most similar is the application for internal appeal. The difference between the previous regime and the new provisions amounts to an increase of over 900%. The increase in fees adds to the debate that the legal system and remedies available are not generally accessible, and these latest fee changes show a trend towards the Tribunal becoming less accessible for people on low incomes and vulnerable tenants.