MPs call for substantial reduction in tribunal fees

In June 2016 House of Commons Justice Committee of MPs released a report on Courts and tribunals fees. The report repeatedly chastised the Justice Ministry for not assessing the impact of the introduction of fees quickly enough. It was also highly critical of the Ministry for not making their data on the subject available to review.

Recommendation: tribunal fees should be reduced

The report went on to recommend that the fees charged to an employee to bring an employment tribunal claim should be substantially reduced. The committee did not support a view that litigation should be free but in their opinion the current fee level is not acceptable.

Access to legal recourse more important than covering running costs

They also voiced a concern that introducing fees to cover the cost of operation of the court should not go before preserving access to justice. Giving employees reasonable access to legal recourse should not be only the privilege of the wealthy.

Further increases in fees suggested

The Government has brought forward proposals of increasing the cap on some court fees. The Justice Committee report comments that “there is a troubling contrast between the speed with which the Government has brought forward successive proposals for higher fees, and its tardiness in completing an assessment of the impact of the most controversial change it has made”.

The background

In July 2013, new fees were introduced to pursue disputes against employers in the tribunal courts to defer employees from lodging unfounded claims. Sexual harassment, unfair dismissal and discrimination claims cost claimants £1,200. Claims to recover unpaid wages or holiday pay cost the employees £390. This has had a major impact on the number of claims processed by the tribunal courts.

Claims at an all time low after fee introduction

Data from 2014 showed the lowest level of claims since the records began in 2008/09. HMCTS tribunals recorded 84,700 receipts in the period January to March 2014. This is 67% lower than the same period of 2013. Bob Neill added:

“The Ministry of Justice has argued that changes to employment law and the improving economic situation, as well as the pre-existing downward trend in the number of employment tribunal cases being brought, may account for part of the reduction in the number of cases. These may indeed be facts but the timing and scale of the reduction following immediately from the introduction of fees can leave no doubt that the clear majority of the decline is attributable to fees.”

Acas compulsory reconciliation service

As a further improvement in the process, as of 7t April 2014 all employees wishing to lodge a claim must first contact Acas for advice. The services Acas provides are free and hopefully this will mean that employees will not be scared off from standing up for their rights. The role of Acas is to try to mediate the dispute and explore any possibilities for a pre-claim conciliation that could mean that the case does not have to escalate to the courts. Acas has put together a helpful flowchart showing the new process, which is available online.

Acas certificate needed to pursue a claim

If the employee wishes to continue with the case down the tribunal route, they will first need to get a certificate from Acas. However, either the employee or the employer can still simply refuse Acas’ help after their initial consultation.

TUC sees the fee structure as a victory for Britain’s worst bosses

TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady has said: “Employment tribunal fees have been a huge victory for Britain’s worst bosses. By charging up-front fees for harassment and abuse claims the government has made it easier for bad employers to get away with the most appalling behaviour. Tribunal fees are part of a wider campaign to get rid of workers’ basic rights. The consequence has been to price low-paid and vulnerable people out of justice.”