Salford civil claims centre is poised to usher in a new era of payments following two years of persistent complaints from solicitors.
HM Courts & Tribunals Service will start piloting a fee account service from next week.
The centre, which contributes around a fifth of HMCTS income, will be at the forefront of the service. Civil servants hope to persuade law firms to pay court fees by direct debit rather than cheque.
Paul Downer, head of modernisation for HMCTS, told the Liverpool Law Society conference last week that around 200 firms have signed up to use the service – but that most were still in the age of cheque payments. ‘If I walked into a court 30 years ago I’d see the same way of processing cheques as now,’ he said.
‘It is time to move our staff away from that sort of work so we can move them on to the frontline.’
The service will be phased in on 7 July for any customer using the County Court Money Claims Centre, the Rolls Building or Cambridge County Court, then on 29 September for all other courts and offices.
Customers are required to submit a request to HMCTS to sign up. A unique ID number will be issued within seven days to allow payments to be made electronically.
Keith Etherington, Law Society Council member for civil litigation, encouraged firms to sign up for the fee account, adding that it should save them time.
The roll-out comes as managers at Salford say they are continuously improving performance, with complaints down to around 60 a month. The performance is a stark turnaround on the centre’s opening in 2012, when complaints poured in as it became fully operational.
Martin Huddleston, manager of the centre, said the service has saved HMCTS £5.6m in two years, during which time 725,000 claims have been processed.
He said the call centre now answers 95% of calls – exceeding its 90% target – with 97% of claims processed within five days.