Employment tribunal fees were introduced by the government in July 2013. They range from £390 for a claim for unpaid wages, to £1,200 for unfair dismissal. Official statistics show that in the year after their introduction, the number of claims brought had fallen by approximately 70%. There has therefore been much debate about whether the fees have reduced spurious claims or simply prevented access to justice to those that cannot afford it. Indeed, there has even been a legal challenge, with trade union UNISON taking the government to the Supreme Court in a debate about the lawfulness of the fees. Commenting after its unsuccessful challenge in the Court of Appeal, a spokesman for UNISION said:
“There is stark evidence that workers are being priced out of justice and it is women, the disabled and the low-paid who are being disproportionately punished. Our fight for fairness at work and access to justice for all will continue until these unfair and punitive fees are scrapped.”
The government however has published its own view of the merits of tribunal fees. Considering all the evidence, they concluded that the fees had broadly met their objectives, as they have:
transferred a proportion of the cost from the taxpayer to those using the tribunals;
encouraged more people to use Acas’s free conciliation service instead of going to tribunal; and
protected access to justice as Acas’s conciliation service has been effective in assisting people resolve their disputes.
The government also state in the introduction to their report that ‘most people would agree that it is better for parties to try to resolve disputes without going to the tribunal‘. The aim of discouraging people from going to tribunal has certainly been achieved in light of the sharp reduction in claims. The report goes on to assert that while clearly people have been discouraged from bringing a claim ‘there is nothing to suggest they have been prevented from doing so‘. It cites positive steps that have been taken to assist people with the fees; there is a fee remission scheme in place (‘Help with Fees’), while action has also been taken to increase awareness and access to the scheme. It recognised that improvements could be made however and set out plans for expansion of the Help with Fees scheme. Fees for three types of proceedings relating to payments from the National Insurance Fund (usually concerned with insolvent employers) were also abolished from the date of the report.
Whatever your own opinion of them, the government seems adamant that the introduction of the fees was a positive measure and, pending the outcome of the UNISON case, they are here to stay. UNISION’s Supreme Court hearing is listed for the 27 March 2017 – 28 March 2017 and we will keep you updated on the outcome of the case. In the meantime, however, if you have any queries about tribunal fees and remissions please contact a member of our team.