Airline passengers seeking flight delay compensation through small claims courts face having to pay more to use the service under new rules, specialist travel law firm Bott & Co warned.

The Ministry of Justice changed the way refunds on hearing fees are paid to people using the small claims court from yesterday (Monday).

The current system allows people claiming to cancel their hearing and request a refund on their fees up to seven days before their scheduled hearing date.

The new system will only allow refunds for cancellations more than 28 days before the hearing date.

Hearing fee amounts vary from £25 to £335 depending on how much a claim is worth. A family of four claiming €600 each could lose up to £170, according to Bott & Co.

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.

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, the law firm predicted.

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, Bott & Co added.

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.

Bott & Co flight delay compensation lawyer, Kevin Clarke, said: “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. 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.”