Following the end of the consultation on ‘Reforming the Tribunal System’ on 20th January, 2017, the government has published its formal response and given the go-ahead for changes to be introduced. To that end, the government has said it will bring forward measures to reform the employment tribunal system ‘as soon as parliamentary time allows’. The measures include digitising the claims procedure so that claims are lodged and processed online, and communications between individuals and the tribunal are made electronically.
In a statement on behalf of the Ministry of Justice and Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, the business secretary, who uniquely amongst the tribunals managed by HM Courts & Tribunals Service is responsible for policy and legislation on procedural matters in employment tribunals, said the changes to the Employment Tribunals Act 1996 will not only bring the employment tribunal system in line with the flexibility of the rest of the unified tribunals system, but will also preserve its unique strengths.’
As comprehensive as the tribunal system consultation claimed to have been; it did not encompass the controversial introduction of tribunal fees, much to the consternation of lawyers and civil rights organisations. The Law Society had stressed that any reform of the structure of employment tribunals should be accompanied by a reversal of fees, which were introduced in 2013 and have contributed to a slump in claims.
Responding to these criticisms, the government has now conceded that some ‘re-balancing’ of the system is necessary, and has accepted that adjustments to the current scheme to alleviate impacts may need to be made. It has therefore opened a further consultation on proposals to widen the support available to people under the Help with Fees scheme. These proposals would aim to help people on low incomes, in particular, women, disabled people and people from Black and Minority Ethnic backgrounds who feature disproportionately among those in low income groups. The new consultation will close on 14 March 2017.
In the new Help with Fees consultation the government has proposed that the gross monthly income threshold for a full remission should be increased from £1,085 to £1,250 (broadly the level of the National Living Wage). Under these proposals more people would qualify for a full remission and others would contribute less than under the current arrangements. The government has said it believes that this is the most effective and fairest way of addressing the issues identified, because they target people on low incomes who it believes are those most likely to be deterred from pursuing a claim because of the fee required.