Do employees have access to justice in Employment Tribunals?

This month's topical employment update written by a University of Law student explores the issue of tribunal fees and their impact on the access to justice.

Prior to July 2013, where an employee had a grievance against their employer, they could bring a claim in the employment tribunal free of charge. However, following a government consultation it was decided that frivolous/pointless claims to the tribunal needed to be reduced. This lead to the passing of the Employment Tribunals and the Employment Appeal Tribunal Fees Order 2013 which came into force on the 29th July 2013 which required claimants to pay a fee when bringing a claim in the Employment Tribunal and the Employment Appeal Tribunal.

There are two categories of fees that apply where claims are brought in the Employment Tribunal. The first category, where a claimant brings a claim for deduction of wages, unpaid redundancy payments or annual leave, an initial fee of £160 payable and should the claim result in a hearing, a further fee of £230 payable.

The second category of claim includes more complex matters such as unfair dismissal, discrimination, equal pay and whistleblowing. Where these such claims are brought, an issue fee of £250 and a hearing fee of £950.

The introduction of tribunal fees has been widely criticised by practitioners. This is because since the introduction of fees, research conducted has shown that the number of claims brought before the tribunal has decreased by 70%.

Whilst the fee regime has been in place for several years now, the subject has hit the news again since two academics from the University of Oxford, Associate Professor Abi Adams and Professor Jeremias Prassl published their research on this topic in the Modern Law Review. Their research concluded has found that access to justice has been hindered. This is because the cost of bringing a claim versus the potential reward received by successful claimants is disproportionate. Claimants are likely to spend more on a claim than they would receive on a successful action meaning that it may not be worth the time and effort to bring the claim based on the outcome.

In addition to the above recent article, the trade union Unison, brought a case before both the High Court and the Court of Appeal opposing the introduction of tribunal fees and quoting that as a result of the new fee system claimants were at a huge disadvantage. Although both actions were rejected in the respective courts, Unison were given leave to have their case heard before the Supreme Court. We are currently waiting for the ruling of the court to be delivered.

However, the Ministry of Justice have released their review of the new system. Whilst not accepting that the fees represent a barrier to access to justice, the MoJ has decided to extend the current fee remission programme. This help with fees will be available to those on lower incomes and the unemployed. Further assistance can be found on including the relevant form which must be completed to apply for help with fees.

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Thank you Midland Legal Support Trust!

A big thank you to the MLST and to everyone who raised funds to support organisations like Birmingham Peoples Centre. Without your support we would struggle to meet the costs involved in providing our services. The grant we recently received will enable us to continue to assist those who have nowhere else to turn and make employment rights meaningful.

Working with students from the University of Law in Birmingham

Students from the University of Law have kindly offered to keep our news section topical by producing regular articles for the website. The first issue covered is the "gig economy" and the recent Uber case. Many thanks to the students involved!

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