As things stand, if an aggrieved employee wishes to bring an employment claim to the tribunal, they must pay an initial fee, followed by a further hearing fee before the case is heard by an employment tribunal judge.
The amount of each fee depends on the type and complexity of the claim, with initial fees in most cases being £250 and the hearing fee typically £950.
The stated purpose behind the introduction of the fee regime was to reduce spurious and vexatious claims and the burden of such claims on both the employment tribunal system and business.
However, the success of the fee regime appears to have come at the price of access to justice for many workers. Employees with genuine claims are unsurprisingly discouraged by fees of up to almost £1,200, and the scope for remission of fees is restricted.
Fewer claims: Not just because of fees
The significant reduction in claims is not attributed only to the introduction of the fee regime.
In April 2012, the qualification period for the right to claim unfair dismissal increased from one to two years, and in July 2013, the cap of one years’ salary for unfair dismissal claims was introduced, reducing the potential value of many claims.
For many employers, the reduction in claims is welcome, however, on the flip side, these provisions make it possible for unscrupulous employers to behave unlawfully and irresponsibly when it comes to their employees in a bid to reduce costs, which consequently has a negative effect on competition.
Another consequence of the above developments appears to be a trend for employees to bring more complex claims against their employers, including claims where there is no cap for compensation and no service requirement (as there is for claims of unfair dismissal).
Claims relating to discrimination, whistleblowing and health and safety dismissals represent a far higher proportion of claims.
Employers should therefore remain vigilant in their dealings with employees and other workers. In any event, the long term future of the fee regime is subject to continued challenge, particularly from the unions and is not secure.
The UK government is currently carrying out a review of the impact and effectiveness of employment tribunal fees, which is expected to be completed later this year.
The Scottish government has recently announced their plans to abolish tribunal fees altogether, using new powers contained in the Scotland Bill.
Although there are serious concerns surrounding access to justice, many consider the abolishment of fees altogether a step too far, particularly when a reduction in fees could achieve the same objective.
This may be the route the UK government takes at the conclusion of their review, and it is therefore possible that we may see a meaningful reduction in tribunal fees within the next 12 months.
Joanne Evans is a partner and the head of employment at Myerson Solicitors.
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