The government should admit employment tribunal fees were a mistake and scrap them

The government’s decision to demand a fee from anyone taking their employer to court was ill-judged, has failed to save the taxpayer money, and prevented thousands of badly treated workers from getting justice, says UNISON.

The government’s long-awaited review of the impact of fees is published today (Tuesday), and shows a 70% drop in the number of cases taken to employment tribunals over the past three and a half years.

But despite the review accepting that there’s been a “sharp, significant and sustained” drop in the number of claims, ministers have decided access to justice hasn’t been affected, says UNISON.

The government says the fall is because workers are choosing not to bring cases, opting instead to spend their money elsewhere.

Under the changes low-paid women have been the biggest losers, especially those who are pregnant or on maternity leave, says UNISON.

Although employees on very low wages can get assistance to pay the fees, even those earning the national minimum wage aren’t always entitled to help, says UNISON.

When the changes were introduced ministers claimed the move would save the taxpayer money. But the review shows the government is only recouping a fraction of the cost of tribunals – just 13 per cent, says UNISON.

Commenting on the review – which was meant to have been published in the summer of 2014 – UNISON general secretary Dave Prentis said:

“The introduction of fees was a terrible decision. The Lord Chancellor should be big enough now to accept her department got this one badly wrong.

“Tribunal fees should be scrapped immediately, before any more law-breaking employers escape punishment because wronged workers simply don’t have the cash to take them to court.

“Unfortunately it’s now much harder for people who’ve been treated unfairly at work to seek justice. Women have been the biggest losers, bad bosses the undoubted winners.

“The government originally said making people pay would weed out vexatious claims. All it’s done is punish lower paid employees with genuine grievances. That’s why our legal challenge continues.”

The union first mounted its legal challenge against the decision to make employees pay to bring a case against their employers in July 2013. Its appeal will be heard in the Supreme Court on 27 and 28 March 2017.

Notes to editors:
– Employment tribunal fees were introduced on 29 July 2013.
– Fees start at around £160 to issue a type A claim (e.g. wage claims, breach of contract etc), and £250 for a type B claim (e.g. unfair dismissal, discrimination etc). There’s also a further hearing fee of £230 for Type A and £950 for Type B claims. Appeals at the employment appeal tribunals also attract a £400 lodging and £1,200 hearing fee.

– 29 July 2013: Fees are introduced and UNISON seeks permission in the High Court to bring judicial review proceedings.
– October/November 2013: UNISON’s first claim is heard in the High Court.
– December 2013: Ministry of Justice statistics for July to September 2013 show a 56 per cent drop in claims compared to the same period the previous year
– February 2014: UNISON’s challenge is unsuccessful. The High Court states that the claim brought was premature and new proceedings should be lodged, if and when further evidence is available.
– March 2014: Official figures for October 2013 to December 2013 show a 79 per cent drop in claims
– May 2014: UNISON is granted permission to appeal to the Court of Appeal.
– June 2014: The figures for January to March 2014 show a 81 per cent drop in claims
– September 2014: There’s an 81 per cent drop in claims for April to June 2014
– September 2014: UNISON’s Court of Appeal claim is stayed to allow a second High Court challenge.
– October 2014: UNISON brings its second judicial review challenge.
– December 2014: UNISON’s second challenge is unsuccessful.
– April 2015: the Court of Appeal hears UNISON’s appeals in relation to both High Court claims.
– 26 August 2015: UNISON is unsuccessful at the Court of Appeal and an application for permission to appeal to the Supreme Court is made.
– 26 February 2016: the Supreme Court gives UNISON permission to continue its legal challenge.
– 31 January 2017: the government publishes a review of fees, and proposes a further consultation, including help for those on the national minimum wage.
– 27 & 28 March 2017: UK Supreme Court to hear UNISON’S appeal.

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