The introduction of Employment Tribunal fees in 2013 was met with discomfort by many people. While the government claimed that the fees would have the effect of cutting down on “malicious and weak cases,” many feared that the reality would be a denial of access to justice for those without the funds to cover the cost of taking a case all the way. Now, the Supreme Court has ruled that the fees the government introduced were unlawful and, as a result, the government will now have to repay around £32 million to those who were wrongly charged.
Rewind back to 2013
Employment Tribunal fees were introduced by the Coalition in 2013. The sliding scale of fees started at £160 for issuing a claim for a breach of contract or lost wages. After that, if the case made it to a tribunal, another £230 was due and payable. However, where the cases where more complicated – for example, a discrimination case or an unfair dismissal hearing – claimants also had to bear in mind an extra fee of £250 plus a hearing fee of £950. Appeals could push the fees of the case up by a further £1,600.
The impact of the introduction of fees
There is no doubt that when the Coalition government introduced the fees they consequently reduced the number of claims made. In fact, according to government statistics, 79% fewer claims were brought over a period of three years after the fees were introduced. Of course, there’s no proof that those cases were “malicious and weak,” just that the claimants had no means of paying for them. Unions such as Unison stated “These unfair fees have let law-breaking bosses off the hook these past four years, and left badly treated staff with no choice but to put up or shut up. We’ll never know how many people missed out because they couldn’t afford the expense of fees.” Altogether around 14,000 people a year unsuccessfully tried conciliation for their employment dispute but then found that they couldn’t take the claim any further because the tribunal costs were too prohibitive.
Has access to justice been restored?
The fees have raised around £32 million since they were first introduced and the government is now going to be forced to both stop collecting those fees and also to find a way to return the amounts to those who paid them. The Justice Department has made it clear that it will be the taxpayer who foots the bill for the refund. Now that the Supreme Court has found that the government was acting unlawfully and unconstitutionally in charging the fees, many in the legal profession have expressed their relief at the fact that these fees have now been lifted. But what about all the businesses that could now be vulnerable to claims that may have been curtailed by the fees? We will have to wait and see if the number of claims issued rises to its 2013 pre-fees level. In the meantime, acting within the law and appropriate employment policies has to continue to be a priority for employers who wish to reduce the cost of legitimate claims.
To speak to an employment lawyer in Skipton please call 01756 799000.