The public service union UNISON is challenging the Government over the introduction of fees for employees who wish to bring a case to an employment tribunal, but a decision on the challenge is a long way off.
Fees were introduced in Employment Tribunals at the end of July this year as part of a raft of measures designed to simplify employment procedures and encourage business to take on new staff.
Under the new rules anyone wishing to make a claim to the Employment Tribunal must pay a combination of fees. One payment is due on submitting the claim, known as the issue fee, and another a few weeks before the hearing.
There are two categories of claim, with different fees payable. Type A claims are for smaller, simpler cases such as unlawful deduction from wages, statutory redundancy payment, or refusal to allow time off. More complex claims such as for discrimination, unfair dismissal or whistleblowing would be categorised as Type B.
For type A claims the issue fee is £160, with a hearing fee of £230; for type B claims, it’s £230 plus £950. However, where there are groups of two or more claimants, there are different fees.
It’s a big change for employees looking to make a claim through the Employment Tribunal system, as they previously were able to do so without a direct financial commitment. The fees were introduced to tackle weaker claims and encourage greater use of mediation after the number of tribunal claims rose by 81% between 2001 and 2011*. But despite a surge in June, before the introduction of fees, and a subsequent dip in August, the Ministry of Justice reports that the overall number of claims over the quarter has been at around the same level as previous years.
Following the introduction of the fees, UNISON secured a judicial review with their main objection being on the grounds that national courts must not make it virtually impossible, or excessively difficult, to exercise individual rights conferred by European Community law. They have also argued that it is discriminatory as women generally earn less and so may find it harder to afford the fees. It is likely to be well into 2014 before a decision is made, but HM Courts and Tribunals Service have said that all fees will be repaid, with interest, if the Judicial Review finds the fees to be unlawful.
Said employment law expert Mark Cornish of Grant Saw solicitors: “The Government hopes that reforms such as this will stimulate investment and expansion, by cutting red tape and the risks involved in taking on new staff for business.
“The flip side for employees with legitimate cases is the worry about finding the cash to make the claim in the first instance, as it’s quite likely they will be out of work, or worried about work, when they are considering making a claim. So it’s a good idea for former employees to get some advice on the strength of their claim before they set out.”
* Official figures for cases submitted to employment tribunals
This is not legal advice; it is intended to provide information of general interest about current legal issues.