A landmark decision in the Supreme Court has ruled that charging fees to employment tribunal claimants is unlawful. Coodes Solicitors employment lawyer Philip Sayers comments on the findings.
Being charged tribunal fees to bring an employment hearing has been ruled as unlawful with the Government now set to repay millions of pounds to claimants.
The Supreme Court unanimously found that introducing fees of up to £1,200 for employment tribunals and appeals was unconstitutional.
The case stems from the introduction of the fees in July 2013. Since then, the number of claims for workplace grievances has fallen by around 70% – a much more dramatic drop than the Government had anticipated.
Although some of the figures can be attributed to the Advisory Conciliation and Arbitration Service (ACAS) early conciliation scheme to resolve workplace disputes as early as possible, it is clear that bringing in fees has accounted for much of the fall in claims.
Government reasoning for launching the fee system was to reduce the number of malicious and weak cases being brought, to transfer part of the cost burden from the taxpayer and to encourage earlier settlement. But there is no evidence that it was unmeritorious claims that were being deterred as the percentage of claims that actually succeeded in a final hearing has slightly fallen since fees were introduced.
The Supreme Court also found that this fee hit low and middle income workers hardest and was indirectly discriminatory because a high number of women would traditionally bring discrimination cases.
Trade union Unison argued that the fees prevented access to justice and now the highest court in the country has ruled in its favour.
Having already made a voluntary commitment to reimburse all fees if found acting unlawfully, the Government is now expected to repay around £32million to claimants affected by the charges.
But what is still unclear – and will probably never be resolved – is just how many people have been deterred over the past few years from bringing their work grievance to an employment tribunal because they couldn’t afford to pay this fee.
I think for now we must wait to see exactly how the judgement will be implemented in practice and whether we will see a rise in number of employment tribunals and appeals being brought in the future.
For more information on this or any Employment enquiry, contact Philip Sayers, Employment team, Coodes Solicitors on 01872 246200 or email@example.com