‘Oppressive’ tribunal fees must be removed to ensure that justice is available for those who need it. That’s the opinion of the Law Society, in response to the Ministry of Justice’s review of the impact of tribunal fees.
The Law Society claims that since the hike in tribunal fees, thousands of people have been unable to assert their workplace rights. What’s more, it has gone further and accused the government of being ‘wilfully blind’ to the impact of the controversial charges.
Speaking in response to the Ministry of Justice review, Law Society president, Robert Bourns, said that although an estimated 14,000 people per year have unsuccessfully attempted conciliation for their employment dispute since the changes were introduced; the majority had been unable to escalate matters and take their cases to tribunal because of the high fees:
‘In the face of plummeting numbers of cases going to the tribunal, falling settlement rates, and thousands of people saying they could not take their cases to the tribunal due to high fees, only by being wilfully blind can the government claim there is “no evidence” that fees are stopping people enforcing their rights.’
‘With employment tribunal cases having fallen by around 70 per cent immediately after the fees were introduced, these 14,000 people are the tip of the iceberg. Tens of thousands of other cases have simply disappeared from the system, to be written off by the government as somehow unmeritorious or unworthy, adding insult to injury for those whose employment rights have been ignored,’ he added.
Although justice minister Sir Oliver Heald had claimed the current system was ‘generally working effectively and was operating lawfully’, he stated that the ministry will now look at consulting on proposals to extend support to people on low incomes. Under the proposals people over 25 earning up to £1,250 [up from £1,085] a month (gross) would be exempt from fees. Other proposals included granting additional allowances for people living as couples and those with children, and remitting fees for certain proceedings related to payments made from the National Insurance Fund.
Yet, despite these concessions, Mr Bourns believes the government is still not doing enough to redress the imbalance created by the imposition of fee:
‘The solutions the government now proposes are little more than tinkering around the edges, which can never address the tens of thousands of individual workers effectively barred by these fees from asserting their rights.’
‘If the government is genuine about workers being able to defend their rights at work it must restore access to the employment tribunal. This means removing oppressive fees to ensure that justice is upheld for those who need it,’ he added.