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Employment tribunal fees continue to undermine access to justice two years on

Employee claims down 60 per cent since introduction of fee system

30 July 2015

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Employment tribunal fees were meant to transfer the cost of running the tribunal system to users and encourage employers and employees to resolve disputes without resorting to litigation. While fees have certainly reduced the number of claims the actual cost to justice may not be worth thinking about.

New statistics from the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) show that employment tribunal claims have fallen by over 60 per cent in the two years since substantial charges were introduced.

In 2012/13, the Employment Tribunal received on average 48,000 new claims per quarter, which declined to an average of 26,500 in 2013/14. Specifically, the number of new claims in the first quarter of 2013 - when there were no fees - totalled 14,843. The amount of claims in the first quarter of 2015 totalled just 4,876.

Further, the average number of new claims per quarter in 2014/15 was just 15,300, demonstrating a further decline in volume over the financial year.

In some areas there has been an even more dramatic drop in claims. There has been, for example, an 83 per cent drop in sexual discrimination claims and a 77 per cent drop in claims relating to equal pay.

With official figures showing such a sharp decline in claim volumes, it is of no surprise the fee system continues to be criticised by lawyers as presenting a barrier to access to justice.

Commenting on the figures, Law Society president Jonathon Smithers said: 'The £1,200 that a claimant must now pay for most types of cases is close to the average monthly salary, putting a tribunal well beyond the reach of many people, particularly those on lower incomes.'

Research by the Citizens Advice Bureau found that workers with legitimate grievances against their employers have been deterred from pursuing claims since the introduction of the fee system.

The research also found that four in five of possible claimants are put off by fees. Just under half of people with an employment issue would have to save for six months to afford tribunal fees of £1,200.

In addition, Acas have found that among those employees who could not reach an agreement through the early conciliation process but then decided not to pursue the claim, the most frequently reason sighted was the cost of fees.

Smithers added: 'The Law Society welcomes and will be contributing to the Justice Committee's recently announced inquiry into the impact of court and tribunal fees. Everyone needs employment tribunals that are fair and affordable. They must work for both employers and employees.'

Esther Nimmo is an editorial assistant at Solicitors Journal @EstherNimmo

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Tribunals & Courts