Have the new employment tribunal fees led to a drop in employment claims?


On 29 July 2013 new employment laws came into force which for the first time saw the introduction of fees for employment tribunal claims. The changes were made by the coalition government to reduce the £74 million annual cost of running the Tribunal Service, and to reduce the pressure of tribunal costs on employers.

However, the new fees have been widely criticised as restricting access to justice. The TUC said the introduction of the fees was ‘a great day for Britain’s worst employers’.

How much does it now cost to go to tribunal?

The headlines in the media have claimed that it will now cost you £1,200 in order to bring an employment claim before a tribunal.

However, this fee is not applicable to all cases. The £250 issue fee and £950 hearing fee that make up the full £1,200 are for more complex employment claims such as whistleblowing and unfair dismissal.

More straightforward claims, such as unpaid wages and redundancy pay, will have a lower fee of £390 (£160 for issuing the claim and £230 for the hearing).

What if I can’t afford that?

In addition, the application of the new fees will be means tested. The government has introduced the ‘remission system’ to help those who wish to bring an employment claim but cannot afford the fees. The remission system will remove all fees for those on specific benefits or for those with a gross annual income of less than £13,000 (this figure increases if the claimant has a partner and/or children).

Some employment lawyers have commented that the introduction of a waiver scheme will only increase the cost of running the Tribunal Service as it is a new level of bureaucracy.

The impact on your rights

Despite the availability of the remission scheme and the possibility of recovering the fee if successful, TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady said the new fees were just the next step in the coalition government’s attack on the fundamental rights of workers. She said the fees will make ‘it easier for employers to get away with the most appalling behaviour’ and that their ‘only achievement will be to price vulnerable people out of justice’.

On the other hand, justice minister Helen Grant thinks the new laws are necessary to reduce the speculative nature of employment tribunal claims. One could argue that she is following the party line that everyone is a ‘have-a-go Harry’ who thinks they may as well try to get something from their previous or current employer, even if they know they are not really eligible to claim.

Did the system need changing?

Employment lawyers have commented that the previous system was actually quite successful at dissuading those potential claimants with cases that had little or no chance of success, and therefore they predict that the new fee system won’t actually lead to a drop in the number of employment tribunal claims.

Judges already had the ability to dismiss claims with little or no merit and are successful in persuading claimants to drop a claim if it is likely to fail. In addition, they could already impose a fee of £500 for claims with little chance of success.

So has introduction of fees led to a decline in the number of claims coming before the tribunal? Well, it is still early days and there are no official figures so far to indicate that any significant decrease has taken place.

However, employment solicitors around the country are reporting that they have not noticed a drop in the number of employment claims they are undertaking and that this area of law remains as complex as ever. Therefore speaking to an employment solicitor before issuing a claim at an employment tribunal is highly recommended.

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