Unfairly treated employees should not have to pay to seek justice, says UNISON

UNISON’s legal battle to give people at work the right to access justice – without having to pay expensive fees – when employers break the law goes to the Supreme Court today (Monday).

The two-day hearing is the final stage of UNISON’s legal campaign against the introduction of employment tribunal fees, which began back in 2013.

Since July of that year anyone who has been treated unlawfully or unfairly by their employer, and who wants to challenge them at an employment tribunal, has had to fork out a fee, which ranges from £390 to as much as £1,200, says UNISON.

Back in January this year, the government produced its long-awaited review of the impact of fees. It showed there’d been a 70% drop in the number of cases since July 2013. Low-paid women, especially those treated unfairly when they were pregnant or on maternity leave, have been the biggest losers.

UNISON’s case to the Supreme Court will assert that the government’s decision to demand a fee from anyone taking their employer to court has stopped many thousands of badly treated employees – especially those on low incomes – from getting justice.

Commenting on the Supreme Court case, UNISON general secretary Dave Prentis said: “If an employer breaks the law and treats one of their employees unfairly, they should be challenged. It cannot be right that unscrupulous bosses are escaping punishment because people simply don’t have the money to pursue a case.

“The introduction of fees was a terrible decision. It has denied many thousands of people the right to seek justice. Bad employers are having a field day, safe in the knowledge that few will be able to afford to challenge them at a tribunal.

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

Notes to editors:
– Employment tribunal fees were introduced on 29 July 2013.
– Fees start at around £160 to issue a type A claim (eg wage claims, breach of contract etc), and £250 for a type B claim (eg unfair dismissal, discrimination etc). There’s also a further hearing fee of £230 for Type A and £950 for Type B claims. Appeals at 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 https://www.gov.uk/government/collections/tribunals-statistics
– 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 https://www.gov.uk/government/collections/tribunals-statistics
– 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 https://www.gov.uk/government/collections/tribunals-statistics
– September 2014: There’s an 81 per cent drop in claims for April to June 2014 https://www.gov.uk/government/collections/tribunals-statistics
– 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 assistance for those on very low incomes.
– 27 & 28 March 2017: UK Supreme Court to hear UNISON’S appeal.

Media contacts:

Liz Chinchen T: 0207 121 5463 M: 07778 158175 E: l.chinchen@unison.co.uk
Alan Weaver T: 0207 121 5555 M: 07939 143310 E: a.weaver@unison.co.uk