The Employment Tribunal Fees system polarised opinion when it was introduced in July, 2013.
The government claimed the fees were necessary to help make the tribunal system self-funding.
The TUC, with the backing of many lawyers, saw things differently and argued that the introduction of fees would deter employees from seeking redress. Some of those concerns were meant to be addressed by the Acas Early Conciliation process. However, the concerns remained as many still believed that many individuals would still be put off making a claim despite the conciliation process. There has been insufficient evidence so far to determine whether these initial fears were justified. However, a new report by Citizens Advice may make the situation clearer.
The Citizens Advice report found that more than 80% of the clients seeking help from Citizens Advice said they would be put off going to an employment tribunal by the level of fee they would face. In a poll of 361 clients of the advice service, over three quarters said they would be deterred from making a claim because of the fees introduced in 2013.
The government had claimed at the time that the fees put off weak or vexatious claims and would help to fund the tribunal system. However, Citizens Advice’s research found that the fees were likely to cover only around 7% of the tribunal’s running costs. The research also found that the number of cases won by claimants has actually fallen in the past two years to below 60%, suggesting that fees may have had a bigger impact on strong cases rather than weak ones.
Current fees are set at £390 for type-A cases, (such as unpaid wages or notice pay) and £1,200 for type-B cases such as unfair dismissal or discrimination. However, there is a system of remissions for claimants on benefits or low incomes, yet the poll found that only 29% of clients were aware of this help. The research also found that the fees were high in relation to the money that clients took home. The poll revealed, based on declared salaries from respondents, that 47% of type-B claimants would have to put aside all of their discretionary income for six months to save the £1,200 fees.
As a result of the research, Citizens Advice has called for tribunal fees to be reduced immediately and be aligned with county court fees to widen access. It has also called on the Ministry of Justice to do more to promote awareness of the remissions system, and make it easier for potential claimants to work out whether they are eligible for fee remissions. (As it stands, potential claimants must read a 32-page PDF to check their eligibility) The advice service also wants the government to commission research into the number of spurious claims and what can be done to deter them, adding:
‘Currently the system is imbalanced against claimants, and balance cannot be properly struck without knowing what puts off weak and genuine claims. The research should seek to establish what proportion of ET claims can be considered unjustified and what measures could be taken to protect employers from these without deterring legitimate claims.’
The legal battle over the introduction of the fees is set to continue this year, after the High Court last month rejected a challenge from trade union Unison, effectively because it could not produce sufficient evidence to show that fees are making it more difficult to bring cases to tribunal. Unison has subsequently said it will appeal.
If you would like further advice or assistance, or would like to have an informal chat about any employment contract or dispute issue, then please contact one of Harold Stock & Co Solicitors on 01457 835597 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.